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Civil rights leader sentenced to 15 years for incest

A top lieutenant to Martin Luther King Jr. was sentenced Wednesday in a Virginia court to 15 years in prison for incest for having sex with his teenage daughter.

The Rev. James L. Bevel was a key architect of the 1963 Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, Ala., and other pivotal moments of the civil rights movement. He was convicted after a four-day trial earlier this year in Loudoun County Circuit Court.

The prison sentence was the most severe the judge could impose. Sentencing guidelines called for a term of probation and the jury that convicted Bevel recommended the 15-year sentence.

Bevel, 71, took the stand during the sentencing hearing and revealed that he was recently diagnosed with end-stage pancreatic cancer and that doctors estimate he has six weeks to six months to live. A prosecutor said that was unfortunate but that Bevel deserved the sentence.

During the trial, Bevel’s daughter testified that she was repeatedly molested by Bevel beginning when she was just 6 years old, culminating in sexual intercourse in 1993 or 1994 that formed the basis of the incest charge.

The jury saw a documentary that spelled out Bevel’s key role in organizing the Children’s Crusade. Bevel and King were leading organizers of the marches, in which police turned fire hoses and dogs on child protesters, drawing international attention to the brutality that was keeping segregation in place in the South.

Bevel was also a leading organizer at other civil rights movement events, including the 1965 march at Selma, Ala.

In the 1960s, Bevel was a leader in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), two of the stalwart organizations that led efforts to desegregate the South.