On Sept. 15, 1963, four young Alabama girls died a horrendous death when four Ku Klux Klansmen detonated a bomb underneath a stairway leading to the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. One of those girls, Carol Denise McNair, was 11 years old, and the other three, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, were 14.
Thirty-seven years later, only one of the four Klansmen who planted the bomb had been convicted of murder while another had died without being charged. This soon changed as a courageous Alabama lawyer, Doug Jones, in May 2000 convinced a grand jury to indict the two remaining Klansman, Bobby Frank Cherry and Thomas Blanton Jr., on a total of eight counts of murder. Blanton was convicted in 2001 and Cherry in 2002 through the tireless effort of Jones, a U.S. attorney who was then in his 40s. He brought justice and closure to the families of these four girls.
Now, Doug Jones is locked in a tight battle to become the next U.S. senator from Alabama with another Alabama lawyer who has a very different connection to a 14-year-old Alabama girl.
As detailed in a thoroughly researched Washington Post report, in early 1999 Roy Moore, then an assistant district attorney, approached 14-year-old Leigh Corfman and her mother outside a courtroom. He assured Corfman’s mother that he would look after Corfman as her mother went inside the courtroom for a child custody hearing.
Outside the courtroom, Moore obtained Corfman’s phone number and then twice met with her, without her mother’s knowledge, at his secluded home in the woods. On the second occasion, Corfman alleges this 32-year-old man undressed and fondled her. That an assistant district attorney allegedly would engage in such illegal conduct is shocking.
Our courts and churches are two of the most sacred places in America. Doug Jones, in seeking justice for the underage victims of the Birmingham bombing, reaffirmed the sanctity of that church and, inside a courtroom, assured the victims’ families that justice — though delayed for more than 37 years — would not be denied.
In contrast, his opponent, Roy Moore, urged Corfman’s mother to go inside a courtroom so that he allegedly might groom an underage victim for sexual abuse. While Jones brought justice for four underage girls, Moore allegedly used his status as assistant district attorney to pursue an underage girl.
It is shocking that the polls show that the race between Jones and Moore is close in Alabama. While some Republican senators have denounced Moore, others have conditioned their criticism with the weasel words of “ if true.”
A careful reading of the thoroughly documented investigation by the Washington Post demonstrates that Corfman’s claims have the clarion ring of truth. She told friends at the time, and told her mother several years later, of her encounters with Moore. Court records show her mother attended a child custody hearing in February 1979 when Moore was an assistant district attorney with an office down the hall from that courtroom.
Jones made a moral and a legal choice in fighting for justice for four dead girls. Moore is accused of making a vastly different moral and legal choice. A moral choice now confronts the voters of Alabama.
If voters in Alabama reject a lawyer who worked so hard to obtain justice for young girls and elect one who faces damning allegations, they will have demonstrated a moral bankruptcy that should shock the country.
Arthur Greif lives in Bar Harbor and practices law in Bangor.
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