A parole board in the Southern U.S. state of Alabama decided Wednesday against freeing a former Ku Klux Klan member convicted in a church bombing that killed four black girls more than 50 years ago.
Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr. will remain behind bars for at least the next five years for the September 15, 1963, bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, an incident that became a defining moment in the U.S. civil rights movement. Blanton will be up for parole again in 2021.
Blanton was one of three KKK members convicted of murder in the bombing. The other two died in prison. Blanton was sentenced only in 2001 to life in prison.
Opponents of his release and relatives of the victims welcomed the court's decision, noting that he had served only 15 years behind bars.
The 50th anniversary of the bombing was commemorated in 2013, when President Barack Obama spoke to the tragedy's significance in the civil rights movement.
The powerful blast killed Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, each 14, and Denise McNair, 11.