BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A former Alabama politician whose daughter died in a racist church bombing in 1963 was released from a prison medical facility Thursday after a judge sided with an Obama administration call to free him.
Chris McNair was released from prison hours after U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith issued her ruling, said Peggy Sanford, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney in Birmingham.
The U.S. Justice Department had sought the release of the 87-year-old McNair on grounds of compassion.
In her ruling, Smith said McNair, who was incarcerated at a federal prison medical center in Rochester, Minn., should be released as soon as his health allowed and travel arrangements could be made.
McNair was part of the scandal-plagued Jefferson County Commission that made deals resulting in a then-record municipal bankruptcy over more than $4 billion in debts.
The administration's request for leniency asked a judge to reduce McNair's five-year sentence to the time he has served since entering prison in 2011.
The request said McNair's "serious and declining health problems are extraordinary and compelling reasons" warranting his release, but it did not mention his link to one of the most infamous crimes of the civil rights era.
McNair is the father of Denise McNair, one of the four black girls killed when Ku Klux Klansmen bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963. A bell from the landmark church was rung at the Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday during commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
A lawyer for McNair, former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, prosecuted the last two Klansmen sent to prison for the bombing, then went on to represent McNair during his criminal trial.
Chris McNair became one of the Alabama Legislature's first black members since Reconstruction when he was elected as a state representative in 1973. He never mentioned his daughter's death during the campaign.
He later served 15 years on the Jefferson County Commission before resigning in 2001.
McNair was among 21 people convicted in corruption cases linked to a more than $3 billion sewer project in Alabama's most populous county.
Citing more than $4 billion debts in all, the county filed what was then the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history in 2011. County leaders are still trying to emerge from bankruptcy.
McNair's commission duties included overseeing the sewer project, and prosecutors said evidence showed he collected bribes from contractors in return for government work.
McNair was convicted of bribery and conspiracy to solicit bribes in April 2006, and he later pleaded guilty to soliciting $140,000 in more bribes.
McNair entered prison after losing a bid to remain free because of his age and health.
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U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther KIng (C) waves to supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 on the Mall in Washington D.C. (Washington Monument in background) during the 'March on Washington'. (/AFP/Getty Images)
More than 200,000 civil rights militants gather on Aug. 28, 1963 on the National Mall in Washington D.C. during the 'March on Washington'. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)
In this Aug. 28, 1963 file photo, President John F. Kennedy stands with a group of leaders of the March on Washington at the White House. From second left are Whitney Young, National Urban League; Dr. Martin Luther King, Christian Leadership Conference; John Lewis, Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, partially obscured; Rabbi Joachim Prinz, American Jewish Congress; Dr. Eugene P. Donnaly, National Council of Churches; A. Philip Randolph, AFL-CIO vice president; Kennedy; Walter Reuther, United Auto Workers; Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, partially obscured, and Roy Wilkins, NAACP. (AP Photo/File)
This August 28, 1963 publicity photo provided by PBS shows activists during The March on Washington in Washington, D.C. -- from the film,"Makers: Women Who Make America."(AP Photo/PBS, Courtesy Leonard Freed, Magnum Photos)
FILE - In this Aug. 28, 1963 file photo, the top of the Washington Monument and part of a U.S. flag are reflected in the sunglasses of Austin Clinton Brown, 9, of Gainesville, Ga., as he poses at the Capitol where he joined others in the March on Washington. (AP Photo/File)
U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther KIng (3rd from L) walks with supporters during the Aug. 28, 1963 "March on Washington." (AFP/Getty Images)
In this Aug. 28, 1963 file photo, The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. waves to the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial for his "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington. The march was organized to support proposed civil rights legislation and end segregation. (AP Photo/File)
In this Aug. 28, 1963 file photo, Dorothy Height, right, National President of the National Council of Negro Women and Director of the center for Racial Justice of the national YWCA, listens as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., gestures during his "I Have a Dream" speech (AP Photo, File)