“Justice is served,” Lisa McNair, sister of bombing victim Denise McNair, said afterward.
The girls, who were inside the church preparing for worship, died instantly in a hail of bricks and stone that seriously injured Collins’ sister, Sarah Collins Rudolph. Their deaths inside a church on a Sunday morning became a symbol worldwide of the depth of racial hatred in the segregated South.“We were at that church learning about love and forgiveness when someone was outside doing hateful things,” Rudolph, 65, told the board. She lost an eye in the blast and told the board she was filled with hate for years after the bombing.
Blanton did not attend the hearing, which lasted about 30 minutes. In Alabama, inmates do not attend such hearings. No one spoke on behalf of his release.
Relatives of all four victims were on hand, and the room was full of people opposing Blanton’s parole. Opponents took up seats normally reserved for inmates’ relatives. Members of the Birmingham NAACP chapter rode to Montgomery on a bus to be there.
Rudolph, of Birmingham, acknowledged she was nervous about testifying before the board, but added: “I had to come speak for Addie.”
The board ordinarily has three members but there’s a vacancy. Only two members heard Blanton’s case, which came up for automatic review. Board member Cliff Walker said Blanton can seek another review in five years — the longest possible wait under Alabama law. The board could have allowed him to return as quickly as one year.
Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney who prosecuted Blanton on the state charge, said Blanton shouldn’t be released since he has never accepted responsibility for the bombing or expressed any remorse for a crime that was aimed at maintaining racial separation at a time when Birmingham’s public schools were facing a court order to desegregate.
Long a suspect in the case, Blanton was the second of three people convicted in the bombing. Robert Chambliss, convicted in 1977, and Bobby Frank Cherry, convicted in in 2002, have both died in prison.
Blanton and Cherry were indicted in 2000 after the FBI reopened an investigation of the bombing. Evidence against Blanton included secret recordings that were made using FBI bugs at his home and in the car of a fellow Klansman turned informant.