A man convicted nearly six decades ago of bombing the home of one of the students who desegregated Central High School in Little Rock has asked the state for a pardon, saying in his application that he was beaten into confessing.
Herbert Monts, now 74, was convicted of dynamiting Carlotta Walls LaNier's home on Feb. 9, 1960, more than two years after LaNier and eight classmates became the first black students to attend Central High. LaNier was a senior at the school the year of the bombing.
Two University of Arkansas at Little Rock history professors -- after obtaining original investigative records from the FBI through a Freedom of Information Act request -- are assisting Monts in his appeal for a pardon. Monts, who is black, served 20 months of a five-year prison sentence at the Cummins Unit that began when he was 17 years old, he said.
"That cloud is still hanging over my head, and I'm innocent of all charges," Monts said by phone Friday from Michigan, where he has lived since 1968. "I had nothing to do with that at all. Nothing to do with it."
Monts' application, dated Jan. 20, 2017, is before the Arkansas Parole Board, which will make a recommendation to Gov. Asa Hutchinson after hearing the case. Kelly Knuckles, an executive assistant to Parole Board Chairman John Felts, said the established "target date" for the board to screen Monts' application is Sept. 4, 2018.
Hutchinson, who will make the final decision, was out of the country and unavailable for comment Friday, a spokesman said.
Both LaNier and Monts said they were childhood friends -- born on the same day, at the same hospital -- who grew up one block apart. LaNier has long said she believes Monts is innocent, devoting a good amount of space to the bombing in her 2009 memoir.
"Injustice took place. Period," LaNier, who filed a letter in support of the pardon, said in an interview Friday.
The desegregation of Central High School, three years after the U.S. Supreme Court found segregated schools to be unconstitutional, remains a civil-rights milestone.
Segregationist mobs taunted the students, widely referred to as the Little Rock Nine. The Arkansas National Guard, under orders from Gov. Orval Faubus, initially blocked their entrance into the school on Sept. 4, 1957. The U.S. Army troops dispatched by President Dwight Eisenhower escorted the children inside on Sept. 25, 1957.
Faubus shut down all of Little Rock's public high schools for the 1958-59 school year. Weeks after the schools reopened in August 1959, bombings targeted the Little Rock School Board offices, the building where the mayor's office was based and a city car parked in the fire chief's driveway were bombed.
The September explosions, which became known as the Labor Day bombings, were traced to four people with ties to the segregationist group Capital Citizens' Council, according to the Arkansas Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Faubus later commuted their sentences, and none served more than two years.
Monts, a Little Rock native, temporarily lived with his uncle and attended an integrated high school in Connecticut while following the Central High crisis on national news. He returned to Little Rock in December of 1957. Before the schools reopened in 1959, he registered to attend Central High but was assigned to Horace Mann High School.
No one was injured in the February 1960 LaNier bombing, which shattered bricks and windows on the home's northeast corner, according to archived newspaper accounts. The Little Rock Police Department and FBI jointly investigated the explosion.
Monts said he was at home, asleep, at the time of the explosion. He said he later volunteered to go to the police station for questioning and that he passed a polygraph test. Detained for three days -- except for one night when he was allowed to sleep at home -- he was physically and verbally assaulted, he said.
"I was elbowed," he said. "I was hit upside the head and punched in the side."
When he asked for an attorney, an investigator called him a "smart hand," Monts said.
"That made things even worse," Monts said. "I learned my lesson."
Monts ultimately signed a confession that he said he didn't write.
LaNier said her father, Cartelyou Walls, also was identified as a suspect early in the investigation and subjected to brutal treatment.
"[Monts] was beaten," LaNier said. "You're talking about a [a teenager] being beaten by grown men. I would think you would end up signing some sheet of paper saying, 'Yes, you did it' just to save your life. That's what happened. My father was in his 30s. They beat him, trying to get him to say he bombed his own home, but he was a grown man."
An eyewitness testified that he saw Monts near LaNier's house before the bombing. Monts said the witness, who is no longer alive, later apologized to him personally and said he had struck a deal with police to avoid an unrelated charge.
LaNier moved to Denver, where she still lives, after graduating from Central High School. She is president of the Little Rock Nine Foundation, which awards college scholarships. Her red-brick childhood home at 1500 South Valentine sits abandoned today.
Maceo Binns Jr., then 30, also was convicted in the bombing. The Arkansas Supreme Court later overturned Binns' conviction after finding his confession was coerced, professors Jim Ross and Barclay Key of UALR wrote in a letter to the Parole Board.
Monts' application does not indicate his alleged motive, but news coverage from the time focused on a theory that Monts attempted to build sympathy for the Little Rock Nine to generate out-of-state donations.
"The Labor Day dynamiters were white extremists aroused over token desegregation in the high schools," says the Arkansas Gazette editorial "Justice in Dynamitings," published May 19, 1960. "In his trial and conviction Monts emerged as a Negro extremist who bombed a neighbor's home allegedly to get his neighbor national publicity and 'a lot of money from the North.'"
The editorial praised the "effective and undiscriminating work" by prosecutors to deliver convictions in both the Labor Day and LaNier bombings. Monts' conviction was an example of "the central fact that dynamiters at each extreme of the racial conflict have been brought to bar and convicted in Little Rock," while other bombings in Southern cities were unsolved, it says.
After moving to Michigan, Monts worked for General Motors until he retired in 2006. He's now active in state political campaigns there, he said.
"I left because I didn't like the atmosphere there in Arkansas," Monts said. "You can't go around with that over your head."
Metro on 09/23/2017
Print Headline: Convicted bomber petitions for pardon; Didn’t hit LR Nine student’s home, he says