Former state trooper had varied experience in Southeast Asia
by John Fleming
Editor at large
Jul 08, 2007 | 3129 views |  0 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
James Bonard Fowler, the former Alabama state trooper charged with murder in the 1965 shooting death of civil rights figure Jimmie Lee Jackson, lived a great deal of his life in Southeast Asia after leaving the country for Vietnam in 1968.

Fowler was recognized for his courage in the Vietnam War and later cooperated with military officials in exposing a murder-for-hire plot, according to his former commanding officer and U.S. Army documents.

He was indicted by a Perry County grand jury on two counts of murder May 9 for the death of Jackson, who was shot during a melee in a Marion café on Feb. 18, 1965. Jackson died eight days later in a Selma hospital. Fowler is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday.

Fowler, who remains free on $250,000 bond, maintains the shooting was in self-defense. His Montgomery attorney, George Beck, has filed several motions ahead of the arraignment, including a motion to dismiss and for a change of venue.

If convicted, Fowler could be sentenced to life in prison. Circuit Judge Tommy Jones of Selma has yet to rule on the motions.

Fowler went to Vietnam in 1968, he told The Star, in part because of the death of his brother, Robert, that same year. He managed to be assigned to the same rifle company his brother had been in and, while there, was awarded two Silver Stars and the Purple Heart.

Robert Parrish, a retired lieutenant colonel who was Fowler’s commanding officer in Vietnam, said Fowler was liked by everyone in his unit, including blacks.

“This man was not a racist,” said Parrish when reached at his home in University Place, Wash. “We had racial problems in the Army then, but not in that unit. They loved and looked up to him.”

Parrish added, “I know this man very well, and I knew him in combat. He’s one of those rare people who I would call a real war hero.”

After the Vietnam War, Fowler continued to work and later live in Southeast Asia. He had a home in northern Thailand, where he started a family and where he spent most of the year. He would return to Alabama to deal with business for a few months of the year. He had earlier been divorced from his wife in Alabama.

According to documents obtained from the Department of the Army by The Star through a Freedom of Information Act request, in the late 1980s Fowler was a key witness for the prosecution in a case involving a murder-for-hire plot.

The accused in the case, Sgt. Maj. Edward Gleason, was convicted of “soliciting another to murder a commissioned officer” and was sentenced to serve seven years at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Though that conviction eventually was overturned by a military appeals court in 1997, the testimony and the evidence Fowler provided during the trial, including a tape recording of Fowler speaking to the defendant, were crucial in the conviction, according to a former prosecutor in the trial.

“Fowler cooperated with the prosecution,” said Jeffrey Addicott, the lead prosecutor in the case. “He took a tape recorder and put it under his bed in his hotel room before he met with Gleason. That recording was crucial in convicting Gleason.”

According to the trial transcript, Fowler says Gleason approached him to kill his commanding officer, a Capt. Dumpson.

At the end of his testimony, under questioning by a military judge, Fowler repeats testimony he has already given for the prosecution and under cross-examination.

The judge asks: “Did Sgt. Major Gleason ever specifically ask you to kill Captain Dumpson?”

Fowler answers: “Yes, sir, he did. He did that when he come to visit me at my hotel after I had gone to the Winsor [Hotel] first. That was the first – that was almost the first thing he said to me after I invited him in my room and I says, ‘What can I do for you?’ The first thing he said to me, God as my witness, he said, ‘I want you to kill this …’” According to Fowler’s testimony, Gleason used a racial slur to refer to Dumpson.

In his testimony, Fowler says he never had any intention of carrying out the murder, that he decided immediately he would bring the plot to the attention of the military authorities and cooperate with them.

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