Trial in the death of civil rights martyr still pending

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 26, 2008


MARION &8212; Jimmie Lee Jackson&8217;s only child said Monday she planned to visit her father&8217;s gravesite today.

Jimmie Lee Jackson died 43 years ago today in Good Samaritan Hospital in Selma on Feb. 26, 1965, after being shot in the abdomen eight days earlier.

Email newsletter signup

Cordelia Heard Billingsley has vague memories &8212; mostly of her mother lifting her to see him in his casket. She has kept her father&8217;s memory alive for her children, including her4-year-old daughter Naterika.

The man thought responsible for his death is expected to stand trial later this year. James Bonard Fowler, who was an Alabama state trooper dispatched to Marion that night, says he shot Jackson in self-defense.

Fowler is now retired and lives in Geneva County. He was indicted by a Perry County grand jury on May 10, 2007.

A grand jury failed to get an indictment seven months after the incident occurred in 1965. Fowler, 74, is charged with first degree and second-degree murder charges. He surrendered at the Perry County Courthouse accompanied by his Montgomery attorney George L. Beck, who once successfully helped prosecute a civil rights-era case.

Beck wants to have the trial moved away from Perry County. Circuit Judge Tommy Jones has yet to rule on Beck&8217;s motion for a change of venue. Initially set for trial this month, a date has not been set.

Her youngest child goes to preschool at Berean Baptist Church in Marion. She recently heard about her grandfather during a black history month program there.

District Attorney Michael Jackson, no relation to the victim, is the first African American district attorney in the circuit that includes Perry County. He reopened the case because he said there was new evidence that could help them win a conviction. Time may not be on his side.

Jimmie Lee, 26, was killed during the confusion of a night march. Witnesses say they saw state troopers attacking peaceful demonstrators who were attempting a night march to surround the Perry County Jail to protect a young Southern Christian Leadership Conference worker jailed there.

The late Albert Turner Sr. had visited the Rev. James Orange earlier that day and claimed Orange was going to be killed that night.

To prevent the 23-year-old Orange from being taken from the jail and murdered, demonstrators planed to encircle the jail, holding a candlelight vigil. The marchers never got that far. They were attacked as they left Zion United Methodist Church, as were members of the press.

During the process Jimmie Lee went to the aid of the mother, Viola, and the 82-year-old grandfather who sought refuge inside Mack&8217;s Caf/ where he encountered Fowler.

Prosecutors had hoped Orange would testify during the trial, but he died recently and was eulogized in Atlanta on Saturday.

In his motion for a change of venue, Beck stated that since Jackson’s death, residents have “erected plaques and monuments” in the “glorification of Jimmie Lee Jackson’s death,” and has “severely prejudiced the community …”

Both Beck and Jackson are hopeful a trial will take place this year, probably in the fall.