A former Alabama state trooper has pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of a man 45 years ago at the height of the civil rights movement.
The trooper, James Bonard Fowler of Black, now 77, pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree manslaughter. He had been charged with two counts of murder in the shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson during a melee in a restaurant in Marion in 1965.
Circuit Judge Tommy Jones sentenced Fowler to six months in prison and six months of unsupervised probation. Jones agreed with a defense request that Fowler serve his sentence in Geneva County, close to his home.
Jury selection in Fowler’s murder trial was to begin today, with the trial itself slated for Nov. 29.
Fowler told The Star during a 2004 interview that he shot Jackson. It was his first public admission, but he also insisted he shot in self defense.
Historians have written that Jackson, a civil rights activist who was unarmed, was trying to protect his mother from being beaten by troopers in Mack’s Café.
Reaction to Jackson’s death in a hospital bed Feb. 26, 1965, from his gunshot wounds was a catalyst for the initial Selma-to-Montgomery march, in which protestors were attacked by authorities. Television footage of the beatings, which became known as “Bloody Sunday,” fueled public anger over treatment of the marchers. Two subsequent marches over the following weeks became watershed moments in civil rights history, and helped spur passage of the Voting Rights Act.
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