Indictment issued in 1965 civil rights killing
MARION, Ala. ” A grand jury considering the 1965 shooting death of a black man by a state trooper during a civil rights demonstration returned a sealed indictment Wednesday after a two-hour review.
District Attorney Michael Jackson, who announced the indictment, said the charge and theidentity of the person indicted would not be made public until it is served.
The killing of 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson inspired the historic “Bloody Sunday” protest at Selma. Retired state trooper James Bonard Fowler, who was the target of the grand jury investigation in the case, has said he expected to be indicted in Jackson’s death.
Fowler maintains that he shot Jackson in self-defense. He said there was a struggle over his gun while he and other troopers were being struck with bottles, but he said he was not asked to appear before the Perry County grand jury.
Jackson’s daughter, Cordelia Herd Billingsley of Marion, was 4 years old when her father was killed. She said the case had been “swept under the rug” for decades.
“I want some closure,” she said.
Among the witnesses called to testify Wednesday were Willie Martin of Marion, who was marching on the night of the shooting, and Vera Jenkins Booker, who was the night supervising nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital in Selma, where Jackson died.
According to witnesses, about 500 people were marching from a church toward the Marion city jail to protest the jailing of a civil rights worker when the street lights went out and law officers began swinging billy clubs the night of Feb. 18, 1965.
A group of protesters ran into Mack’s Cafe, pursued by state troopers. The cafe operator, Normareen Shaw, said 82-year-old Cager Lee was clubbed to the floor along with his daughter, Viola Jackson, whose son, Jimmie Lee Jackson, was shot trying to help them.
Fowler said Jackson had grabbed the trooper’s gun from its holster and was shot as they struggled over it. He said Jackson hit him on the head with a bottle in the fight.
The fatal shooting galvanized civil rights activists who had not been getting national media attention in their efforts to register blacks to vote at Selma, said Taylor Branch, the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of “Parting the Waters” and other books about the civil rights movement.
In reaction to the killing, black demonstrators set out on March 7, 1965, from Selma toward Montgomery. They were routed by club-swinging officers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, an attack that became famous as “Bloody Sunday” and spurred passage of the federal Voting Rights Act.
“Jimmie Lee Jackson is the reason there was a Selma-to-Montgomery march,” Branch said.