BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A former Alabama politician whose daughter died in a racist church bombing in 1963 should be released early from his federal prison sentence for bribery because of his failing health and age, the Justice Department told a judge Thursday.
The Justice Department filed papers on behalf of the federal prison system supporting the compassionate release of Chris McNair, a former Alabama county commissioner convicted of taking thousands of dollars in bribes.
McNair, part of the scandal-plagued commission that made deals resulting in a then-record municipal bankruptcy over more than $4 billion in debts, is 87 and suffers from numerous health problems. The request 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. 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.
Lisa McNair, Denise's younger sister and her father's main caregiver before his imprisonment, declined comment on the chances of his early release.
A lawyer for McNair, former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment. 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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