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WASHINGTON � Wanted: A non-Alabama, undoubtedly quixotic attorney to handle a federal post-conviction claim by the man convicted in one of the most reprehensible murders of the civil rights era � the deaths of four little girls in the 1963 Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Ala. From his prison in Springville, Ala., Thomas Blanton Jr., serving four life terms for his 2001 conviction on four counts of first-degree murder, wrote to The National Law Journal: “Attorneys from any part of the country would do, except Alabama. The bottom line is I think there is a good chance that an Alabama attorney would be controlled by the powers that be in this state, which may have happened to my court-appointed attorney who went south on me.” Blanton wants to file a federal habeas corpus petition on his claim that the critical piece of evidence in his trial � a 1964 audio tape from a bug planted by the FBI in the kitchen wall of Blanton’s apartment � had been doctored shortly before his trial. The expert hired by then-U.S. Attorney G. Douglas Jones to enhance the quality of the tape, after dissatisfaction with the FBI’s attempt, was the now-infamous Los Angeles private investigator to the stars, Anthony Pellicano. Pellicano recently served a federal prison sentence for possession of illegal explosives and was indicted last year on unlawful wiretapping and racketeering charges. Blanton believes that a comparison of the original tape with Pellicano’s enhanced version and transcript would reveal there was nothing to tie him to the bombing. But he would face a near insurmountable obstacle in bringing a federal habeas claim, even if it were a credible one, according to habeas experts. “He has the exact same legal problem causing a crisis in the Alabama capital punishment system, but he has a noncapital example: ‘My lawyer never filed a Rule 32 state post-conviction petition and therefore I am out of time on the filing of a federal habeas petition,’ ” said Eric Freedman of Hofstra University School of Law. It would be a “miracle” if a federal court reviewed such a claim on the brink of a prisoner’s execution, said Freedman, adding, “It isn’t going to happen for some stray noncapital prisoner.” Blanton wrote that he thought the time bar could be overcome by “equitable tolling.” But too much time may have passed even for that approach, said longtime habeas litigator Ronald Tabak of New York’s Skadden, Arps, Meagher, Slate & Flom. Blanton’s trial and direct appeal attorney, John C. Robbins of Birmingham, said he did not file a state post-conviction petition. “I’m not sure the guy is guilty to this day,” said Robbins, “but the Pellicano angle, I told him that I can’t represent to a court that this four-minute tape has been doctored if we have no evidence and our expert said there’s no evidence the tape has been manipulated in any way.” A 2004 article in the Los Angeles Times reported that Pellicano, apparently a self-taught expert, had been hired over the years by a number of federal prosecutors and defense attorneys in cases involving audio tapes. Blanton’s prosecutor, Jones, now a partner in Birmingham’s Whatley Drake & Kallas, said he had “no second thoughts” about Pellicano’s work in the case. “What we gave to Blanton’s lawyers was not only the Pellicano version on CD, but they had access to the original tape and access to duplicates straight from the original and access to the enhanced version the FBI used,” said Jones. “There was a lot to compare Anthony’s version to what was the original. There’s never been any question except in Tommy Blanton’s own mind that it was anything other than full and complete,” Jones added.

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