MARION, Ala. – FBI documents obtained by a Mississippi newspaper show at least 18 people witnessed the 1965 shooting of civil rights protester Jimmie Lee Jackson by an Alabama state trooper who awaits trial on a murder charge in the slaying.
In a story Sunday, The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., reported that the FBI documents it obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request give details, including the identities of potential witnesses not even known to District Attorney Michael Jackson of Selma, who is prosecuting the case against former Trooper James Bonard Fowler.
Fowler, 73, of Geneva, has pleaded not guilty and contends he shot Jackson, 26, in self-defense in Marion. He remains free on bond.
The Jackson killing on Feb. 18, 1965 set in motion the historic "Bloody Sunday" Selma-to-Montgomery march when police attacked marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. The violence led to the eventual passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Fowler's attorney, George Beck, could not be reached by the newspaper for comment on the FBI documents. Beck has said the case should not go to trial because the passage of time has hurt his client's chance to have an impartial and fair trial.
A hearing on pretrial motions has been scheduled for November, with trial expected early next year.
If these witnesses are brought to testify, former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones of Birmingham said the statements could help bolster the state's case against Fowler.
"Trying to re-create that scene is going to be difficult for the prosecution," Jones told The Clarion-Ledger. "Certainly any witness that now has the ability to review prior statements and refresh their memory is very important."
Jackson was shot after state and local police had forcibly broken up a night march on the streets of Marion.
The Selma prosecutor, Michael Jackson, who is no relation to Jimmie Lee Jackson, said several witnesses have come forward to provide an account of the shooting that contradicts Fowler's version. He said he is not ready to reveal who they are but said, "The troopers' version just could not have happened the way they said."
He is attempting to track down witnesses, some of whom have moved as far away as California and Michigan.