From: Otis Willie
Subject: FBI Agents Named Employees of Year
Organization: The American War Library
NNTP-Posting-Date: Fri, 15 Nov 2002 00:13:39 EST
Date: Fri, 15 Nov 2002 05:13:39 GMT
FBI Agents Named Employees of Year
(EXCERPT) Wed Nov 13, 6:58 PM ET, by JEFFREY McMURRAY, Associated
WASHINGTON (AP) - Bill Fleming and Ben Herren spent six years
reviewing dusty evidence volumes and barely audible tapes to secure
the convictions of two men who bombed an Alabama church almost 40
years ago, killing four black girls.
On Wednesday, the FBI (news - web sites) agents were recognized as
Federal Employees of the Year, and the parents of one of the victims
were on hand to present the awards.
"Any time an investigator works a case, the only hope he has is to be
able to get it to a judge and jury," said Herren, who was a
Birmingham, Ala., police sergeant when the case was assigned to him in
1996 and then transferred to the FBI a year later. "They don't look
down the road to something like this."
The investigation immediately following the blast at the Sixteenth
Street Baptist Church produced no charges, although four white
supremacists were long suspected. Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley
helped lead a 1977 conviction of one of them, Robert Chambliss, who
died in prison in 1985. A second suspect, Herman Cash, died in 1994.
Fleming and Herren helped prove the guilt of Bobby Frank Cherry and
Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr., Ku Klux Klan members now serving life terms
in prison for murder.
"I was very negative about it because there was a lack of evidence,"
said Fleming, who will retire from the FBI on Jan. 3. "It was an
incredibly cold trail. We had nothing going for us, just nothing. As
the investigation progressed, people started coming out of the
Herren said that was particularly the case with Cherry, who held a
news conference to proclaim his innocence after the FBI stopped by for
a surprise interview. Several witnesses Herren did not even know
existed began calling, telling about Cherry's involvement.
Blanton's conviction was sealed after investigators carefully reviewed
a conversation between him and his wife, picked up on a microphone
that had been planted under his kitchen sink. FBI labs in the 1960s
could not make out the words, but modern technology revealed he was
talking about going to the river to plot the bombing.
Although he was skeptical at first, Herren now realizes it was
necessary to reopen the investigation. People who had information were
reticent because they figured authorities had given up, he said.
"At that time, there was no active investigation they knew of, and
they were scared," Herren said. "One thing that hurt the investigation
early on was that people were just afraid to talk. Even though the
Klan was a paper tiger with no teeth, the fear that once was with the
Klan still took over."
That changed when the unsolved murders were exposed again to the
The father of 11-year-old victim Denise McNair called the awards long
"It's a very deserved honor," said Chris McNair, in Washington for the
ceremony Wednesday with his wife, Maxine. "These two people are
wonderful people anyway. If you just knew them on the street, you'd
never know they were FBI agents."
Herren said having the McNairs in the courtroom helped get him through
two often tumultuous trials.
"I could look back at them, and it gave me some strength," he said.
Fleming and Herren are each receiving $5,000. Others recognized at the
Service to America ceremony include a Coast Guard official who
directed the seaborne evacuation of lower Manhattan after the Sept. 11
attacks and an Army Corps of Engineers worker credited with refusing
orders to falsify data.
On the Net:
Service to America Medals:
-- DEA Watch
The Voice of the Drug Enforcement Agent
American Victims of Substance Abuse Memorial