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Two Suspects in 1963 Church Bombing Surrender to Authorities

Aired May 17, 2000 - 2:13 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: We are awaiting further details on a developing story in Birmingham, Alabama today, where two men have been jailed in connection with a church bombing that killed four girls back in 1963. Longtime suspect Bobby Frank Cherry turned himself in this afternoon, after former Ku Klux Klan member Thomas Blanton Jr. surrendered this morning. Blanton's attorney says, his client was indicted Monday.

A little bit later, federal prosecutors are expected to fill in the blanks. As we continue to await details, CNN's Eric Horng reports on a case that's been reopened on several occasions, in hopes of achieving justice.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ERIC HORNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The explosion ripped through the walls of the 16th Street Baptist Church, just as parishioners arrived for Sunday morning worship. Eleven-year-old Denice McNair and 14-year-olds Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins were killed in the bombing, the image of their bodies pulled from the debris came to symbolize the civil rights struggle.

Eight thousand mourners attended the funeral. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the eulogy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HORNG: In the days after the bombing, President Kennedy dispatched hundreds of federal agents to Alabama. During the next two years, they compiled 200 files on the case. The initial federal investigation resulted in no charges. But the FBI did name four Ku Klux Klan members as suspects.

In 1977, one of those men, Robert Chambliss, was convict by the state of Alabama of murder in connection with the attack. He died in prison in 1985.

The FBI's second suspect Herman Cash is also dead. But in 1997, three decades after the federal government closed its investigation, county authorities in Birmingham reopened the case, assembling a grand jury to examine charges against the FBI's last two living suspects: Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Cherry.

Today, the 16th Street Baptist Church is rebuilt, a stained glass window where the face of Jesus was blown off in the explosion, now whole again.

Eric Horng, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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