The attorney defending the former state trooper who recently was indicted for murder in the case says it's possible the interview could change the outlook for his client if, indeed, a medical mistake, and not a gunshot wound, killed Jackson.
“In my opinion, Jimmie Lee Jackson died of an overdose of anesthesia,” Dr. William Dinkins said in a 1979 interview gathered as part of the documentary film, Eyes on the Prize.
The transcription of the interview with Dinkins was obtained by The Anniston Star from the Washington University Film and Media Archive in St. Louis. The interview with the doctor ultimately was not included in the final version of the film.
Former state trooper James Bonard Fowler of Geneva was indicted for murder in the case on May 9 by a Perry County grand jury. Fowler does not deny shooting Jackson during a melee in a Marion restaurant on Feb. 18, 1965, but he has maintained to this newspaper that the shooting was done in self-defense.
Historians tend to agree that Jackson's death at Good Samaritan Hospital on Feb. 26 helped provide the catalyst for the Selma-to-Montgomery march a few days later.
According to an emergency room log book at the Old Depot Museum in Selma, Dinkins — who according to Selma residents is dead — was the attending physician to Jackson. In the interview for Eyes on the Prize, however, Dinkins said that another doctor was brought onto the case a few days after he first started attending to Jackson.
It was only after that doctor decided to conduct a second surgery, Dinkins said, that Jackson's condition significantly deteriorated.
Records staff at the Edmundite Mission in Selma, the Catholic order that owned the now-closed Good Samaritan Hospital, say records from that time have been lost, making it difficult to identify the unnamed physician.
While the accusation of an overdose is seemingly explosive in the seven-page interview, there are serious questions as to whether it can be admissible in court, says one of Alabama's leading experts on evidence.
“From what you are telling me, this is not likely to be admissible,” said Charles Gamble, the author of Gamble's Alabama Rules of Evidence, and a professor of law at the University of Alabama for 25 years.
Gamble explained that the interview with Dinkins — something that took place outside the courtroom — may be ruled as hearsay, and while there are a number of exceptions to hearsay, he does not see one in this case.
“It is hard to say for sure at this point,” Gamble said from his home in Tuscaloosa, “but I do see some significant hurdles for getting this into evidence.”
Fowler's attorney, George Beck, said that while he did not want to discuss any legal strategy, he did feel that the Dinkins interview showed that the gunshot did not cause Jackson's death.
“This [interview of Dinkins] illustrates very vividly why we are so prejudiced in this case,” he said, using the legal term for preconceived judgment formed without factual basis.
“We have been informed for a long time now that Mr. Jackson's death was not the result of a gunshot wound, but something else,” Beck said from his office in Montgomery. “This material simply reinforces that.”
Told that Selma residents, including personnel at the Edmundite Mission, said Dinkins is dead, Beck replied that this further prejudiced his case.
Dallas and Perry County District Attorney Michael Jackson said the Dinkins interview shouldn't change anything.
“If he wouldn't have been shot, he wouldn't have been in the hospital,” Jackson said from his office in Selma.
“What he died of, infection, whatever, it doesn't change the fact the he was killed for no reason,” the district attorney said.
In the interview, Dinkins explains that Jackson was in fair condition when brought into the hospital; that he had dealt with gunshot wounds before; and that Jackson was not experiencing any difficulty at all over the week.
Dinkins said he opposed the second doctor's decision to operate, because he felt Jackson did not need it.
During the operation, Dinkins said, the rise and fall of Jackson's diaphragm began to slow.
Describing to the interviewer what happened in the operating room, Dinkins said, “you can see the diaphragm going up and down, up and down, and it gets slower and slower, slower and slower, and it stops.”
The interviewer asks, “And that happened in this case?”
Dinkins responds, “That happened in this case.”
Later, the interviewer asks, “Based on your experience, what do you believe killed Jimmie Lee Jackson?”
Dinkins answers, “In my opinion, Jimmie Lee Jackson died of an overdose of anesthesia.”
However, Jackson's death certificate, signed by Dinkins and listed as a probable homicide, lists the cause of death as “peritonitis.” (Peritonitis is inflammation or infection of the lining of the abdominal cavity.) “Gunshot wound of abdomen,” is listed as a condition that gave rise to the peritonitis.
In the interview, Dinkins said he never was asked by the FBI or any authority the cause of Jackson's death. He said, however, that if he had been asked at the time he would have responded that the cause of death was “peritonitis, abscess; today I would have said overdose of anesthesia.”
Dr. Roy Gandy, a faculty member at the University of South Alabama Medical School and an emergency room physician who has tended gunshot wounds, said the interview does not give enough information to determine what happened.
“It just doesn't give me a clear idea of whether the death was a result of a gunshot wound or some medical misadventure by either Dinkins or the other doctor,” Gandy said from his Mobile office.
Toward the end of the interview, Dinkins also tells the interviewer that he later attempted to obtain Jackson's medical records, but was refused access to them.
“I feel that there has been a cover up all along and it still persists,” he said.