Former trooper arraigned in 1965 murder case
by John Fleming
Editor at large
Jul 11, 2007 | 3547 views |  0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
District Attorney Michael Jackson talks with reporters inside the Perry County Courthouse in Marion on Tuesday. Photo: Rob Carr/Associated Press
District Attorney Michael Jackson talks with reporters inside the Perry County Courthouse in Marion on Tuesday. Photo: Rob Carr/Associated Press
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An autopsy report on the body of Jimmie Lee Jackson suggests poor medical treatment and a mistake by the attending physician helped lead to the death of the civil rights figure eight days after he was shot by an Alabama state trooper, according to a forensic pathologist.

“What [the autopsy] suggest to me,” said Dr. Kris Sperry, the chief medical officer of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, “is that the man had four holes in his bowels. One of them was partially sutured and one of them was not sutured at all. As a result of these holes that are not closed or are partially closed, feces have leaked out, and this has caused a massive infection.”

Sperry went on to say that “What is being suggested in the report is that the doctor made a mistake. The holes were not closed properly. In my opinion, had the holes been closed, this would have been a survivable injury.”

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.

Fowler was arraigned on murder charges in Marion on Tuesday. Circuit Judge Tommy Jones said the trial likely will be held next spring and that he may set the trial date Friday, according to the Associated Press.

Fowler’s attorney, George Beck, has filed a number of motions in the case, including a motion to dismiss and a motion for a change of venue.

Jones said he’ll also set a date Friday to rule on the motions.

Fowler and Beck waived their right to appear at the arraignment Tuesday. Perry and Dallas County District Attorney Michael Jackson, who is not related to the victim, said he does want to formally arraign Fowler in person at a later date, the AP report said. The state’s laws concerning murder have been rewritten since 1965, and Jackson said he wants to make sure Fowler understands the charges.

Fowler remains free on $250,000 bond.

After Jackson was shot he was taken by ambulance to Good Samaritan Hospital in Selma. His attending physician was Dr. William Dinkins, according to a hospital log book.

Dinkins, who is now dead, gave an interview in 1979 to a producer of the documentary film, “Eyes on the Prize,” about the Jackson shooting. In that interview he blamed Jackson’s death on a fellow physician who hospital administrators had asked to come in to perform a second surgery just prior to Jackson’s death.

In the interview, Dinkins says the other physician gave Jackson too much anesthesia during the operation and that he died on the operating table.

“In my opinion, Jimmie Lee Jackson died of an overdose of anesthesia,” Dinkins is quoted as saying.

The interview with Dinkins was ultimately not included in the final version of the film, but the transcription was obtained by The Anniston Star from the Washington University Film and Media Archive in St. Louis.

While Dinkins insisted in the interview that his fellow physician applied too much anesthesia to Jackson, he signed a death certificate listing Jackson’s 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.

Dr. Sperry says that while some obvious problems in Jackson’s treatment may have helped lead to his death, the fact should not escape anyone that the reason he was at Good Samaritan in the first place was that he had been shot.

“It’s a tough defense to use, really,” said Sperry from his office in Atlanta. “I mean, if he hadn’t been shot, he wouldn’t have been in the hospital, right? The shooting precipitated the event.”

It is something frequently echoed by the district attorney who will try the case. When told of the interview in which Dinkins claimed Jackson died on the operating table as a result of an anesthesia overdose, District Attorney Michael Jackson said, “If he wouldn’t have been shot, he wouldn't have been in the hospital. What he died of, infection, whatever, it doesn’t change the fact the he was killed for no reason,” he said.

George Beck, Fowler’s attorney, said the autopsy shows that medical error led to Jackson’s death.

“This report shows there was a botched medical procedure that led to the man’s death,” said Beck from his office in Montgomery.

The Dinkins interview, according to legal experts, would probably be considered hearsay and therefore would be unlikely to be admitted into evidence. But the autopsy, being an official, certified document, would have a much better chance of being admitted.

“The autopsy would seem to be to the defendant’s advantage,” said Charles Gamble, a long-time professor of evidence at the University of Alabama Law School and the author of a number of books on evidence.

“The key, though, is getting it into evidence,” Gamble said. “The state could object, but the state is also hindered in that if it doesn’t let the autopsy in, how does it prove death?

“Ultimately,” Gamble went on, “if it is allowed into evidence, the jury will decide. They will decide did the trooper cause his death or was there an intervening event. Planting that doubt in the mind of the jury could be powerful for the defense.”
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