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Pryor supports rewrite of state's mentally competency rules

The Associated Press
7/27/01 1:50 AM

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- Attorney General Bill Pryor said he supports rewriting Alabama's mental competency rules, the subject of protests since a former Ku Klux Klansman was judged unfit for trial on murder charges in a 1963 church bombing.

Pryor said Thursday aides are looking at similar laws from federal courts and other states as they consider ways to revamp Alabama's competency guidelines, criticized from all sides in recent weeks.

A committee could recommend changes in the rules this fall, but the final decision is up to the Alabama Supreme Court.

"I do support a change," Pryor said in an interview. "We're surveying the field to look at what's out there."

Black demonstrators have protested a judge's ruling earlier this month that Bobby Frank Cherry was incompetent for trial in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

Cherry, 72, was indicted last year on murder charges in the blast, which killed four black girls on Sept. 15, 1963.

But Circuit Judge James Garrett ruled that prosecutors failed to prove Cherry mentally competent by "clear, convincing and unequivocal" evidence, as required under the current law.

Prosecutors have said it was virtually impossible to meet the standard -- which is far tougher than federal court rules that require proof of competence by only a "preponderance of the evidence."

A state judicial committee could recommend adopting the federal standard, but it was too early to say for sure, Pryor said.

Pryor said he had hoped Cherry would go to trial in the church bombing. He added he was "disappointed" in the protests since Garrett appeared to have followed the law in his ruling.

Four experts examined Cherry, and all found him suffering from dementia of varying degrees. Two experts said Cherry was incapable of aiding his lawyers and was incompetent for trial, but two others said he appeared to be faking the severity of his symptoms.

Prosecutors contend Cherry was part of a small group of Ku Klux Klansmen who planted the bomb that exploded outside Sixteenth Street Baptist, killing the girls. Cherry contends he is innocent.