James Fowler Pleads Guilty to Killing Jimmie Lee Jackson 45 Years Later

James Bonard Fowler

Forty-five years after he was killed by an Alabama State Trooper Jimmie Lee Jackson, whose death lead to the first civil rights march on Selma, he is finally getting a small measure of justice. James Bonard Fowler, 77, a former state trooper, pled guilty to shooting Jackson and will serve six months in prison. He also apologized for his actions but still claimed the shooting was in self-defense: “I was coming over here to save lives,” said Fowler. “I didn’t mean to take lives. I wish I could redo it.” It is the conclusion of a court case that has lingered since the 1960s, but the conclusion still seems to not value Jackson’s life. Albert Turner Jr., Perry County commissioner, called the verdict “a slap in the face of the people of this county.” “I understand District Attorney Michael Jackson’s reasoning as to why he accepted Fowler’s plea of misdemeanor manslaughter,” Turner said.
Jimmie Lee Jackson

Jimmie Lee Jackson

“Time was starting to run out,” Jackson said. “We wanted to make sure justice was done before he died.” Fowler is 77 and allowing the case to drag out longer will not benefit anyone, he said. Fowler finally confessed to an Anniston Star newspaper reporter in 2004, saying he fired the gun. “Jimmie Lee Jackson was not murdered,” he said in the interview. “He was trying to kill me, and I have no doubt in my mind that under the emotional situation at the time, that if he would have gotten complete control of my pistol, that he would have killed me or shot me. That’s why my conscience is clear.” If that is the case, Fowler should have stepped up years ago to handle this situation, according to many people who live in the area.  Why did he not make that admission in the 1970s, the 1980s or the 1990s? If he truly felt he did nothing wrong, he would have stepped up and defended himself long ago. Jackson’s family says he was unarmed and killed while trying to protect his mother. But according to some observers, the bright side is that this marks the 24th “unpunished civil rights–era killings that have been re-prosecuted since 1994, when a Mississippi jury convicted Byron De La Beckwith for the 1963 assassination of Medgar Evers in Jackson. The conviction also marks the first time that someone serving in law enforcement at the time of the crime has been convicted in these unpunished cases,” according to the Associated Press. “Any conviction in these kinds of cases is significant,” said former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones of Birmingham, who successfully prosecuted two former Klansmen in 2001 and 2002 for their involvement in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four girls.
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