Sad end for one chapter

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 5, 2002

I remember clearly the day I first saw Bobby Frank Cherry.

Hands and feet shackled and clad in an orange jumpsuit, he was being led into the Shelby County Courthouse.

He had gray hair and a bulbous nose. He wore glasses. He looked like someone’s grandfather.

He had just been indicted in Shelby County on 30-year-old child molestation charges, brought by his stepdaughter.

He had agreed to come back from Texas, where he was living in a old, beaten up trailer, to face those charges.

Many of us suspected the molestation charges were just a way to get him extradited back to Alabama.

He and three other Ku Klux Klansmen had long been suspects in one of the worst incidents of the Civil Rights era &045; the Sunday morning bombing of Birmingham’s downtown 16th Street Baptist Church which killed four little girls.

While many felt prosecutors knew who had committed the crime, it seemed that making any sort of case against the men was difficult.

One man was convicted of the murders in 1977 and the second was convicted in 2000. The fourth suspect died without being brought to trial.

But now, Cherry was back in Alabama.

Once Cherry was returned to the state, the wheels of justice which seemed rusty for so long suddenly began to turn. He was indicted on the bombing charges.

The molestation charge was dropped shortly afterward.

After some legal wrangling over whether Cherry was mentally fit to stand trial, legal proceedings began.

A jury &045; made up of blacks and whites &045; sat in judgment of a man who prosecutors say conspired to blow up a church.

We’ll never know if he knew that the four girls &045; Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair &045; were inside, primping for a church concert.

One wonders if it would have made any difference to the bombers.

Cherry was convicted and now must spend the rest of his life in jail.

He is 70 years old and in questionable health.

It doesn’t seem fair. The remainder of a 70-year-old’s life in exchange for the lives of an 11-year-old and three 14-year-olds. Sometimes, justice seems strange.

I was riding in a car with my dad this weekend when the subject of Bobby Frank Cherry came up.

&uot;He was living in a rat-hole in Texas, and we bring him back here and give him a clean bed and three meals a day. He was being punished more living the way he was living,&uot; Dad said. &uot;But then again, he has to live with what he did.&uot;

And perhaps that is the greatest punishment of all