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Spring trial likely for former trooper
Judge to set trial date in 1965 civil rights-era Marion murder case

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MARION — A former state trooper charged with murder in the 1965 shooting death of a black man at a civil rights protest likely will be tried next spring, the judge said Tuesday.

Circuit Judge Tommy Jones said he may set a trial date Friday in the case of James Bonard Fowler, 73, accused of fatally wounding Jimmie Lee Jackson when law officers disrupted a protest march in Marion on the night of Feb. 18, 1965.

Jackson’s killing led to historic voting rights protests at Selma.

Fowler, a Geneva farmer who has pleaded not guilty and remains free on bond, contends he fired when Jackson tried to grab his gun during a struggle in a cafe, where a number of protesters had fled.

The judge said he will hold a telephone conference call with defense attorneys and prosecutors Friday to set dates for motion hearings and possibly the trial.

He said there are not many jury trial weeks in the rural circuit and the Fowler case likely will be set for early spring 2008.

Jones said a special jury week could be scheduled for Fowler’s trial.

He commented as Fowler and defense attorney George Beck waived their right to appear at an arraignment proceeding Tuesday.

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 state’s laws concerning murder have been rewritten since 1965 and Jackson said he wants to make sure Fowler understands the charges.

Beck previously has filed motions to dismiss the indictment and, if a trial is held, to move it from Marion.

Contacted later Tuesday at his Montgomery office, Beck said it’s standard procedure for defendants to waive their right to an arraignment.

“I thought there had been enough media attention,” Beck said.

Fowler is accused of shooting Jackson in Mack’s Cafe, where a number of people fled after troopers and other law officers broke up the protest.

Witnesses said the officers were clubbing people in an out-of-control attack that continued into the cafe, where they said Jackson was trying to protect his mother and grandfather when he was shot.

Accounts by troopers say
the crowd refused orders to
disperse and, when the street lights suddenly went out, they were pelted by bricks and bottles.

Fowler has said he was assisting a trooper who had been struck when Jackson hit him on the head with a bottle.

He said he fired the gun when Jackson tried to grab it.

Beck said he has asked that the charges be dismissed because some witnesses who could confirm Fowler’s account of what happened that night have died.

“My client is greatly prejudiced by the death of key witnesses,” Beck said.

The district attorney said he feels it’s important for the case to go to trial. “This is the case that galvanized the civil rights movement on the voting rights issue,” Jackson said.

Jackson said he feels he has enough evidence to convict Fowler, despite the fact that the case is more than 40 years old.

“We have evidence to show this wasn’t an accident, this wasn’t self-defense,” Jackson said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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