Nearly four decades after one of the most notorious crimes of the civil rights era, a jury in Birmingham, Alabama has convicted a 71-year-old white supremacist murdering four black school girls, killed in a church bombing. The case has galvanized the civil rights movement in the United States.

"Guilty" was the verdict returned by the mostly white jury in the case of Bobby Frank Cherry. He is the third person convicted over the past quarter century in the notorious 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. in what was then racially-charged Birmingham at the height of black America's struggle for civil rights.

The bombing occurred just days after the court-ordered desegregation of the city's public schools and helped spark the civil rights movement that led Congress to pass a series of laws protecting the rights of blacks.

While never hiding his racist views, Cherry steadfastly denied any involvement in the murders even though family members testified he boasted shortly after the bombings of taking part. Defense attorneys told the court the charges were based on guilt by association, arguing the former Ku Klux Klansman was no different from a lot of people at that time in his attitudes toward blacks.

Unlike other crimes, American law has no statute of limitations for murder, and the case was re-opened seven years ago, long after prosecutors had dropped it, believing no jury in mostly white Birmingham would return a conviction.