Serving Justice

By: Angela Flowers

11-year old Denise McNair was the youngest of the victims to perish in the bombing

11-year old Denise McNair was the youngest of the victims to perish in the bombing

Three decades after the Civil Rights movement, when most Alabamians were content with letting sleeping dogs lie, U.S. Attorney Doug Jones felt that there was still unfinished business.

Thirty four years after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, which killed four young girls, two of the four men responsible were still walking free. The other two, by now, were dead.

The injustice still haunted Jones. As a friend of Chris and Maxine McNair, the parents of 11- year-old bombing victim Denise, he felt compelled to bring them closure.

“It was my responsibility,” he said. “I felt a strong sense of community, and knowing the McNair family personally, I knew that I had to do this.”

In 1997, the year  Barrack Obama was serving his first term in the Illinois Senate, Jones was  prosecuting the final two bombers.

“I was almost certain that I would win,” he said.

But a small part of him wondered if, like Atticus Finch, he was fighting a battle he was doomed to lose.

“You never know what your outcome is going to be,” Jones said. “ You never know what your jury is thinking until you receive your verdict.”

After spending hours in the courtroom as a law student and later as a lawyer, Jones knew this first-

hand. Jones skipped classes in law school to attend the trial of Robert Chambliss, the first of the four bombers to be convicted.

Jones said watching Alabama attorney general Bill Baxley nail down the conviction was an inspiration that stuck with him for the next twenty years.

The process of convicting the final two bombers, Thomas E. Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry, took five years. The case was circumstantial, weakened by the deaths of witnesses, and the passage of 34 years.

Jones said he sweated the jury’s deliberation.  When the verdict came in—guilty— with a life sentence in prison for each of the four lives lost, it underscored the point Jones made in his emotional closing argument:

“It’s never too late for justice.”

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