Black Caucus asks for new investigation of 1965 fatal shooting
by Star staff and wire reports
Mar 31, 2005 | 3663 views |  0 comments | 41 41 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY — In the wake of a March 6 Anniston Star story, the Alabama Attorney General’s office is reviewing the circumstances surrounding the 40-year-old fatal shooting of a civil rights demonstrator by a state trooper.

Chris Bence, a spokesman for Attorney General Troy King, said Tuesday that the review would be to determine if a new investigation is warranted.

The announcement from the attorney general’s office came shortly after the Legislature’s Black Caucus voted to write letters to King and other state and federal prosecutors asking them to reopen the investigation of the 1965 shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson in Marion.

The shooting was the motivation behind the “Bloody Sunday” voting rights march in Selma, said Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, a veteran Alabama civil rights activist.

Former State Trooper James Bonard Fowler of Geneva told The Star in an interview for the March 6 story that he shot Jackson. The Star’s interview was the first time Fowler had spoken to the press since the shooting and it was the first time Fowler had been publicly identified as killing Jackson.

No charges ever were filed against the trooper. Law enforcement investigators at the time considered the incident self-defense.

State Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, said that after recent prosecutions of other incidents from the civil rights era, such as the convictions in Birmingham of former Ku Klux Klansmen for the 1963 bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, it’s time for prosecutors to investigate Jackson’s death.

“The least we can do is seek the vigorous prosecution of this case,” Sanders said.

Reached on his farm in Geneva County, Fowler told The Associated Press that Jackson’s death was accidental.

“I didn’t intend to hurt that man. He snatched my weapon out of my holster and we were fighting for it. I was very sorry that it happened,” said Fowler, 70.

Three years after the incident, Fowler was fired for beating a fellow trooper, according to Department of Public Safety documents.

Records show that on Sept. 26, 1968, Fowler became involved in a fistfight with Sgt. T.B. Barden at a trooper station in Birmingham. Fowler, records show, suffered from bite wounds to his finger, while Barden was taken to a hospital with multiple injuries, including a bitten ear.

Correspondence and written testimony indicate Fowler started the fight with Barden after receiving a poor performance evaluation.

On Feb. 18, 1965, about 500 people had planned to protest the incarceration of a civil rights activist outside the city jail in Marion. Law enforcement officers confronted the demonstrators, and Jackson was shot after apparently being pursued by troopers into a Marion restaurant.

According to news accounts, Jackson was shot after attempting to help his 82-year-old grandfather, who allegedly had been struck by an officer. Jackson died a few days after the shooting.

Fowler described what happened that night in Marion as a “mob scene” and said it was so chaotic he did not even realize at first that someone had been shot.

Rep. Demetrius Newton, a longtime civil rights attorney who once helped bail Jackson out of jail, said he remembered Jackson’s grandfather once telling him, “I’m going to vote before I die.”

“If anybody needs to be prosecuted for anything, it would be for Jimmie’s death,” Newton said.
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