Huffpost Black Voices

Chris McNair Released: Bombing Victim's Dad Released Early From Prison

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CHRIS MCNAIR ALABAMA
Mr. and Mrs. Chris McNair hold a picture of their daughter, Denise, 11, in Birmingham, September 16, 1963, as they tell a newsman about the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. One day earlier, Denise and three other girls died in the blast while attending Sunday school. McNair operates a commercial photo studio. (AP Photo/stf) | AP

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The father of one of four black girls killed in a racist church bombing in 1963 was home after being granted an early release from prison, and he'll likely attend observances of the 50th anniversary of the attack next month, his lawyer said Friday.

Chris McNair, 87, was convicted of accepting bribes as a county commissioner but released because of his age and health. He was reunited with his wife and two daughters late Thursday, defense attorney Doug Jones said in an interview.

Jones described McNair as upbeat and happy to be home in Alabama after a flight from Minnesota, where he spent the last two years at a federal prison medical facility.

"One of the toughest things for him for the last two years is that he was so far away," Jones said. "He did not have visitors very often because of the distance."

A federal judge approved the Obama administration's request to free McNair on Thursday on grounds of compassion, and officials released him into Jones' custody within hours.

Events are planned next month in Birmingham to mark the anniversary of the bombing that killed Denise McNair and three other girls at 16th Street Baptist Church on Sept. 15, 1963.

"I believe that he will attend certain functions but certainly not all that will go on," Jones said.

Mayor William Bell told reporters McNair will be welcome.

McNair, a longtime member of the Jefferson County Commission, 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, much of it linked to fraudulent deals, the county filed what was then the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history in 2011. The county is still trying to emerge from bankruptcy, and residents face decades of sewer rate hikes.

McNair's commission duties included overseeing the sewer project, and prosecutors said evidence showed he collected bribes in return for government work. McNair was convicted of bribery and conspiracy in April 2006, and he later pleaded guilty to soliciting $140,000 in additional bribes.

McNair, who suffered a minor stroke in 2008, entered prison in 2011 after losing a bid to remain free because of his age and health.

Jones declined comment on McNair's specific health problems but said many of them are linked to aging. With the Justice Department already loosening its guidelines for compassionate releases, the government's request for McNair's freedom was a "no brainer," Jones said.

"Everything just sort of gelled at the right time," said Jones.

Jones, a former U.S. attorney in Birmingham, prosecuted the last two Ku Klux Klansmen convicted in the 1963 bombing before representing McNair in the bribery case.

One ex-Klansmen, Thomas Blanton Jr., remains incarcerated after being convicted in the bombing in 2001 and sentenced to life. Two other one-time KKK members convicted in the blast died in prison.