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Ex-trooper charged in 1965 Ala. killing

He contends he fired in self-defense at a rights protest. Witnesses alleged attacks by officers.

MARION, Ala. - A former state trooper surrendered yesterday on a murder charge in the 1965 shooting death of a black man during a civil rights protest, a killing that led to the "Bloody Sunday" march and the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Former trooper James Bonard Fowler, who contends he fired in self-defense in a struggle over a gun, was charged with first- and second-degree murder in the shooting of 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson.

Fowler, 73, who lives in Geneva, in southeast Alabama, was allowed to remain free on a $250,000 property bond. He said little yesterday other than to describe himself as a farmer.

Fowler was fired from the police force in 1968 for unspecified reasons, according to records.

He is accused of shooting Jackson in Mack's Cafe, where a number of people fled after troopers and other law officers broke up a protest on the night of Feb. 18. Witnesses said the officers were clubbing people in an out-of-control attack that continued into the cafe, where they said Jackson was trying to protect his mother and grandfather when he was shot.

Accounts by troopers say the crowd refused orders to disperse and, when the street lights suddenly went out, they were pelted with bricks and bottles.

Fowler has said he was assisting a trooper who had been struck when Jackson hit him on the head with a bottle. He said he fired the gun when Jackson tried to grab it.

"He was up here quelling a disturbance and someone was killed," said Fowler's attorney, George Beck. "It's very unfortunate, but it's certainly not murder. Under no circumstances could it be intentional murder or murder. The shooting was justified, and the evidence will show this."

Beck said the case was prejudiced against his client because of the passage of time and the death of witnesses, and he said he would seek to have the charges dismissed.