Ala. ex-trooper pleads in civil rights-era slaying

By Phillip Rawls

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Nov. 15 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Fowler was sentenced Monday to six months in jail in Geneva County, his home county. The district attorney said Geneva County was chosen because of safety concerns if Fowler were jailed in Perry County, where the shooting happened.

In 2005, Jackson, the district attorney, became the first black prosecutor in the district that includes predominantly black Perry County. He reopened the case at the urging of activists and black residents and took it before a county grand jury, which indicted Fowler in May 2007.

Many of those who were in Marion that night are dead. News reporters were beaten and cameras destroyed, with no pictures left of what happened. None of the witnesses who appeared before the grand jury actually saw the shooting, but some were on hand when about 500 marchers were halted by club-swinging officers, who said they were pelted with bricks and bottles.

Fowler, who was not called to testify before the grand jury, said Jimmie Lee Jackson hit him on the head with a bottle before the shot was fired in self-defense.

One of the witnesses called to the grand jury was Vera Jenkins Booker, the night supervising nurse at the Selma hospital where Jackson died. She said he told her what happened.

"He said, 'I was trying to help my grandfather and my mother and the state trooper shot me,'" she said in an interview after the indictment.

The district attorney faced a dilemma most other civil rights "cold case" prosecutors didn't — the accused was an officer involved in law enforcement, not someone carrying out an act of racial violence like a church bombing.

Fowler's has been the most drawn-out of the cold-case prosecutions so far. Three years and two months elapsed between the indictment and 2004 conviction of white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith for the shooting death of Medgar Evers in Mississippi in 1963. Fowler was indicted in May 2007 — three years and six months ago.

The delay was chiefly because of disagreements between the prosecutor and Circuit Judge Tommy Jones, who is white. Jackson had challenged the judge's order to give the defense a list of potential witnesses and their expected testimony. On appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled the judge went too far.

The plea agreement was reached while Jackson was seeking an order to remove Jones from the case.

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