The lone surviving Ku Klux Klansman imprisoned for killing four black girls in a church bombing in 1963 will remain behind bars after Alabama's parole board heeded the victims' families Wednesday and refused an early release. The board rejected parole for Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr., 78, who has served 15 years of a life term for being part of a group of Klansmen who planted a bomb outside Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church during the civil rights movement, the AP reports. In 2001 Blanton was convicted of murder and sentenced to life for his role in the Sept. 15, 1963, bombing, which killed Denise McNair, 11, and 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Morris, also known as Cynthia Wesley. "Justice is served," McNair's sister Lisa said after the decision.
The girls were inside the church preparing for worship when the bomb went off, sending stone and brick flying. They died instantly, and Collins' sister Sarah Collins Rudolph was seriously injured. Left with only one eye and recurrent problems with PTSD, the 65-year-old Rudolph asked the board to keep Blanton in prison. "We were at that church learning about love and forgiveness when someone was outside doing hateful things," she said. Inmates do not attend parole hearings under Alabama law, and no one showed up to speak on Blanton's behalf. Blanton, who lives in a one-person cell and rarely has contact with other inmates at St. Clair prison, will again be eligible for parole consideration in five years, the board said.