DA to speak at Harvard

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 27, 2007


District Attorney Michael Jackson is headed to Cambridge, Mass., where he is scheduled to take part in a roundtable discussion this weekend at Harvard University on the complexities of prosecuting civil rights crimes.

G. Douglas Jones, a Birmingham attorney; investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell of the Jackson, Miss., Clarion-Ledger; and William Fleming, a FBI special agent in the Birmingham field office, will join him. The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice, sponsors the two-day symposium.

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Jackson was asked to participate because he is in the midst of investigating the case of the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was shot the night of Feb. 18, 1965 in Marion. Jackson’s office reopened the case last year that involves a former Alabama State Trooper, James Bonard Fowler, who now lives in Geneva County. Fowler admitted during an April 2005 interview that he was the one who shot Jimmie Lee, but said, &8220;it was in self-defense.&8221;

The case had been cold, and Jackson has met every obstacle imaginable, he said, trying to prosecute a 42-year-old case. Records were missing or had been destroyed. Witnesses were dead or couldn’t be located. Earl Washburn, who was a Marion police officer at the time, was believed to have been involved in Jimmie Lee’s death. Washburn took his own life about 10 years ago. Ironically, he lived just across the road from Jimmie Lee’s only child.

The protest the night in which Jimmie Lee was shot was organized to bring about attention when plans to lynch activist James Orange were overheard. Orange was being held in the Perry County Jail, and said recently in an interview with The Selma Times-Journal he was told he would be killed.

Jackson said he planned to soon make a public announcement regarding the case. He said he thought it was ironic he would be asked to go to Harvard, where he will be meeting with &8220;such a distinguished group.&8221;

&8220;This is a huge honor for the DA’s office and for our circuit. I’m looking forward to it,&8221; Jackson said. &8220;We’ve been pressing ahead with the case, and I think you can expect something to happen real soon.&8221;

Charles J. Ogletree, a Harvard Law School professor, who serves as executive director of the Institute for Race & Justice, invited Jackson to Harvard. He will be participating in a discussion on Prosecuting Offenders.

The conference also includes Rita Schwerner Bender as a keynote speaker, with remarks by Ben Chaney and David Goodman. Myrlie Evers-Williams is scheduled to serve as the lunch speaker.