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Ex-Trooper Pleads Guilty In 1965 Slaying Of Civil Rights Protester

It took 45 years, but justice is close to being served in the murder of a Black civil rights protestor from Alabama by a white police officer.

James Bonard Fowler, a former state police officer pleaded guilty Monday to a lesser charge in the 1965 shooting death of Jimmie Lee Jackson at a Civil Rights protest.

The 77-year-old entered the plea of misdemeanor second-degree manslaughter two weeks before he was scheduled to go to trial on a murder charge for the death of Jackson.

Fowler allegedly shot Jackson in a cafe as a protest march turned violent in Marion, Alabama on the night of Feb. 18, 1965. Fowler claimed Jackson was trying to grab the trooper’s gun and that he fired in self-defense. Jackson later died from his wounds in an Alabama hospital.

Shortly after the shooting, federal and state grand juries conducted reviews and declined to bring charges on the officer. District Attorney Michael Jackson, who in 2005 became the first Black prosecutor elected in Marion County, reopened the case and took it before a county grand jury, which indicted Fowler on a murder charge in May 2007.

Fowler, who apologized to Jackson’s family after entering the plea Monday, said it wasn’t his intention to kill anyone on that fateful night.

“I was coming over here to save lives. I didn’t mean to take lives. I wish I could redo it,” says Fowler.

He was sentenced to six months in jail in Geneva County, his home county.

Jackson’s daughter, Cordelia Billingsley says the sentence does little to ease her soul, “This is supposed to be closure, but there will never be closure.”

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