MARION, Ala. - A grand jury returned a sealed indictment yesterday in the shooting death of a black man by a state trooper 42 years ago - a killing that set in motion the historic civil rights protests in Selma and led to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
District Attorney Michael Jackson said the charge and the identity of the person indicted would not be made public until the indictment was served, which could take a few days.
It took the grand jury only two hours to return the indictment in the slaying of Jimmie Lee Jackson, 26, who was shot by Trooper James Bonard Fowler during a 1965 civil rights protest that turned into a club-swinging melee. The case was little-known as a civil rights-era cold case but had major historical consequences.
Fowler, now 73, was the target of the investigation and had said he expected to be indicted. He contended he fired in self-defense after Jackson grabbed his gun from its holster. Calls to his home and his lawyer were not returned yesterday.
The indictment is the latest in a series of civil rights-era cases across the South that have been resurrected for prosecution after lying dormant for decades. In recent years, prosecutors have won convictions in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four black girls and in the 1964 killings of three civil rights volunteers near Philadelphia, Miss.
Citing those cases, people in Alabama began to call for a new examination of Jimmie Lee Jackson's death. Michael Jackson, who was elected in 2004 as the first black district attorney in the Selma and Marion district and is no relation to Jimmie Lee Jackson, said he acted on these calls.
Some of those who were in Marion on the night of the shooting are dead, as are two FBI agents who originally investigated the death. News reporters were also beaten and cameras destroyed during the melee, with no pictures left of what happened. The district attorney, however, said he had "strong witnesses."
All of the witnesses who appeared before the panel yesterday are black, and none witnessed the shooting. But Vera Jenkins Booker, the night supervising nurse at the Selma hospital where Jackson died, said the patient told her what happened.
"He said, 'I was trying to help my grandfather and my mother, and the state trooper shot me.' He didn't give any name," Booker told reporters after her grand jury appearance.