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Bobby Frank Cherry
Bobby Frank Cherry was born in Mineral Springs, a neighborhood of Clanton, Alabama. He joined the United States Marine Corps as a youth, where he gained expertise in demolitions and working with explosives. After his time with the Marines, Cherry worked a series of low-paying jobs, including a long stint as a truck driver. Cherry had a wife, Virginia, at the time of the bombing. He and Virginia Cherry had seven children together. Their marriage was tumultuous and, at times, violent. He expected deference from his wife and children, using beatings to enforce his authority.
The bombing killed four young Black girls (Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, Addie Mae Collins, and Denise McNair) and injured more than 20 other people. During his trial, the prosecution presented evidence that Cherry, a white man, had assaulted Black minister Fred Shuttlesworth in 1957 using a set of brass knuckles. The prosecution also discussed an incident in which Cherry had allegedly pistol-whipped a black man in a restaurant after the man insulted Cherry.
On the morning of the bombing, Cherry was with his son Tom at the Modern Sign Company a few blocks away from the church. The two were silk-screening Confederate rebel flags. Tom Cherry later said that he could clearly hear the sound of an explosion happening nearby and knew that something bad had happened. Cherry was originally supposed to be tried at the same time as (though not jointly with) fellow defendant Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr. Cherry was able to successfully delay his trial by claiming that vascular dementia had impaired his mind and that his health would prevent him from assisting in his own defense. Blanton was convicted and Cherry was eventually found mentally competent to stand trial.
At his trial, he denied his involvement in the bombing as well as his affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan. His wife, Virginia Cherry died of cancer in 1968. After her death, he placed the children in the Gateway Mercy Home Orphanage and with relatives. He eventually remarried four times, including to third wife Willadean Brogdon; Brogdon would later testify at Cherry's trial that he had bragged about his role in the church bombing. Cherry left Birmingham in the early 1970s and moved to the suburbs of Dallas, Texas. He found work as a welder and owned a carpet cleaning business in Grand Prairie. In 1988, Cherry suffered a heart attack and moved again, this time to small-town Henderson County, Texas with his fifth wife Myrtle.
He was retried and was ultimately found guilty decades later and was convicted of the murders in 2002. He was originally taken to the Kilby Correctional Facility in Montgomery County, Alabama for intake. He was later moved to Holman Correctional Facility in Escambia County, Alabama. During his prison sentence, Cherry repeatedly claimed to be the victim of a malicious false campaign against him and he said that he was a "political prisoner" who was denied proper treatment. On Wednesday, October 13, 2004, Cherry was transferred from Holman Prison to Atmore Community Hospital in Atmore. During the same day, an ambulance transported him from the Atmore hospital to a hospital in Montgomery. Cherry died in the Kilby prison's hospital unit on November 18, 2004, at the age of 74. He is buried in Payne Springs Cemetery in Henderson County, Texas.