Judge postpones Fowler trial

Published 4:35 pm Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A judge postponed the trial of a former Alabama state trooper charged with murder in the 1965 shooting of a black man at a civil rights protest in Marion.

The trial for James Bonard Fowler had been scheduled to start Oct. 20 in Marion, but Circuit Judge Tommy Jones delayed it because the district attorney appealed one of the judge’s rulings. Before the trial can begin, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals must rule on whether District Attorney Michael Jackson must give defense attorney George Beck a list of witnesses who will appear at trial.

Beck accused the district attorney of intentionally delaying the case by appealing, but Jackson said Beck had also sought delays.

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The circuit clerk’s office said Tuesday a new trial date has not been set. There is no time limit on when the appeals court can rule, and it is uncertain if a trial will be held before the end of the year.

Fowler is accused of shooting Jimmie Lee Jackson on the night of Feb. 18, 1965, when a civil rights march turned chaotic. Jackson, no relation to the prosecutor, died later at a Selma hospital. Fowler says he shot in self-defense. Two grand juries agreed when they reviewed the shooting in the 1960s. But Jackson reopened the case and obtained a grand jury indictment for murder in 2007.

At a hearing last month, the judge ordered the district attorney to give the defense a list of witnesses he planned to present at trial and provide a summary of their expected testimony. Jackson argued that was improper and took the issue to the Court of Criminal Appeals.

The appeals court made a schedule for considering the case that makes it impossible to have a ruling before court officials would have to begin preparing for a trial in 1½ weeks.

Beck said he was disappointed the district attorney didn’t turn over the witness list and proceed with the trial.

“It shows he has a very weak case against Mr. Fowler. It shows there is no evidence from what was heard by two grand juries — one state and one federal — in the ’60s,” Beck said Tuesday.

The district attorney said Beck can’t know anything about the strength of the case because he doesn’t know what witnesses will be called.

“Our case is very strong,” he said Tuesday.