MONTGOMERY — Doug Jones special election victory over Roy Moore marks the first time Alabama has elected a Democrat to the Senate in 25 years.
But who is Jones?
Here's a primer on the newly elected Democratic Senator:
University of Alabama alum
One day in 1973, Doug Jones was in a cotton tie mill in Fairfield's steel works, where red-bithot steel billets 10 feet long would “go through this press that would reduce it down to metal that would be real thin metal that would tie up bales of cotton,”Jones had just finished his first year at the University of Alabama. His grades, he recalled in a recent interview, “weren’t that great” and his father, a longtime company veteran, decided his son “needed some incentive to work harder.”
So Jones worked six days a week, 10 hours a day at the mill, performing different jobs. On this day, the teenager helped collect scrap metal to go into a machine known as a scrap baller, which turned the excess into balls for salvage. As Jones and a co-worker fed the machine, it got stuck.
“You’ve got these big old hooks you’re supposed to use,” Jones said in a recent interview. “Well, the other old guy who was using it was not using the hook, so I didn’t use the hook either. I yanked on that big old ball of scrap when I did, and a piece of metal sprung up and hit me right between the eyes.”
Jones got away with a bleeding wound. It could have been worse.
“If it had been left or right in any eye, I know I would have lost an eye and it would have done serious damage and probably killed me,” he said. “It hit in the right spot, because I’m hard-headed as hell anyway.”
Jones graduated from the University of Alabama in 1976; his accident in the steel mill, he said, spurred him to improve his grades. At Alabama, he served in the Student Senate and as president of the Off-Campus Association; he also worked in the office of then-Lt. Gov. Jere Beasley. He later attended the Cumberland School of Law, stealing away from his classes in 1977 to watch then-Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley wage his successful prosecution of Bob Chambliss for the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963.
Growing up in a steel town amid segregation
U.S. Steel established Fairfield, Ala., as a company town in the early 1910s. When Jones was born in 1954, the city was near its peak population, and the mills were woven into the landscape, from the sulphuric smell of the blast furnace to fires that lit up the sky.
“I can remember times as a kid where we knew, because of dad’s work and my grandfather’s, that the Ensley Works were going to be pouring one night, and it would light up the night sky,” Jones said. “People used to just go and get on the viaduct in Ensley and just watch the magnificence of that.”
But if it was a friendly neighborhood, there was also segregation. Jones did not attend classes with black students until he was in the seventh grade. Integration was difficult. Jones’ parents sent him to Bessemer High School for a time — but eventually, the white and black high schools in the area consolidated at Fairfield High School in 1969. Jones said “the kids adjusted very well” but added that there were “dust-ups.”
Gardner, one of the first blacks to attend Fairfield, recalled difficulties, including one white student sticking a spitball in his hair. But he said Jones tried to keep things calm.
“Whatever was about to happen, he was there to put it out,” he said. “Doug was always that person who saw both sides and wanted to help move things.”
Jones said he remembered the school reinstating a “Miss Fairfield’ pageant in his senior year, which he emceed “in this godawful velvet tuxedo.” A young black freshman won the competition. Jones said that caused “happiness and thrills” on one side and “a lot of angst and frustration and anger with the white kids.” One student approached Jones and said their concerns stemmed from the fact she was a freshman.
“I called him out on that,” Jones said. “I said, ‘Come on, that’s just crap. You know that and I know that. This is about race. And we’ve got to get over that.’”
“Doug is like a bulldog sometimes,” said Mike Coppage, a retired chief of the Birmingham Police Department who worked with Jones on the investigation of an abortion clinic bombing in 1998 that killed an off-duty police officer. “He sees what’s right, he knows what’s right and he’s going to do it.”
That tenacity from Fairfield to careers as both a sought-after criminal defense attorney and a U.S. Attorney who led successful prosecutions of Thomas Blanton and Frank Cherry for the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, which killed four little girls. Rick Bragg, a writer and journalist who later befriended Jones, said Jones worked like a “drumbeat” in the 2002 Cherry trial.
“It was methodical,” he said in a phone interview. “There weren’t any surprises lurking. He just looked like he was in control of the situation.”
It’s also led him to a campaign for U.S. Senate that, by any measure, will be an uphill climb for a Democrat in deep-red Alabama. Jones is hoping voters respond to his life story, which touches on many aspects of Alabama’s history — including its industrial heritage, which gave Jones and many other Alabamians a start in the middle class.
U.S. Attorney and bombing of women's clinic
Jones felt “he would have a good shot” of returning to the U.S. Attorney’s office when Bill Clinton won the 1992 presidential election. Still, Jones was hesitant at first: The Democrats had a rough midterm in 1994, and it wasn’t clear Clinton might win re-election. Jones knew to take the job, he would “have to shut down a law practice, and I didn’t want to do that for just a few months or a year.”
But after Clinton’s re-election in 1996 — and another candidate deciding to bow out for personal reasons – Jones got the nomination and the confirmation in 1997.
Joyce White Vance, who worked with Jones in the late '90s and served as U.S. Attorney in Birmingham from 2009 until earlier this year, said the head of the office always has a full plate.
“Every day you go to work as a U.S. Attorney, you have a long list of tasks you want to accomplish, and most of them get shoved aside by the contingencies of the day,” she said.
Jones said he felt his earlier work as a defense attorney helped him as a U.S. Attorney.
"It really helps you understand the entire system – that everyone has a role, and everyone has to talk to each other," he said.
Clips from Jones’ time show the U.S. Attorney’s Office pursuing embezzlement and fraud cases, including one out of Winston County that involved the purchase of absentee ballots with cash, beer, and liquor. During that time, Jones worked with then-Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor, a Republican who is now a U.S. Circuit Court Judge.
Jones said early on he was “very candid” with Pryor about issues he had with joint federal and state investigations that targeted his clients when he was a defense attorney. But Jones said he and Pryor worked well together.
“We were so compatible in our goals in the criminal justice arena that we had some very good working relationships on some cases,” he said.
On Jan. 29, 1998, Jones got a call about an explosion at the New Woman, All Women Health Care Clinic in Birmingham. He arrived in time to see a nurse injured in the bombing loaded into an ambulance. Very soon he saw the body of 35-year-old police officer Robert Sanderson, killed in the blast.
“It just seizes you by the throat to witness that,” Jones said. “And I said, ‘Oh my God, what can we do for him.’ ” Jones took a step toward the clinic. An FBI agent stopped him, telling him there could be a secondary device in the area.
As reporters gathered on the scene, the law enforcement agencies involved gathered in a Baptist student union nearby. Coppage said Jones took charge.
“He took ownership,” he said. “He said ‘This is affecting our city and our community. We’re going to make sure we work this thing through the end.’”
The Birmingham Police Department had a “tremendous evidence collection unit,” said Coppage. The investigators also got an assist from the Bureau of Alchohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), whose bomb response unit happened to be training in Atlanta the day of the bombing. “They came in and worked hand-in-hand with our folks,” Coppage said.
The former chief said the agencies worked together “seamlessly” on the case. ATF's ability to reconstruct the bomb within a few weeks impressed Jones. Coppage said Jones made sure Birmingham Police were at the table with federal agencies pursuing the case, due to the death of one of their own.
“He understood where we were coming from during clinic bombing,” he said. “He was very respectful, very thoughtful of our opinions.”
Investigators benefited from key breaks early. A UAB student who heard the blast on the morning of the 29th saw a suspect running from the scene and went to follow him. Later joined by an attorney, the two ended up identifying the suspect — who would turn out to be Eric Rudolph — and getting his license plate numbers. “Without that young man and that lawyer, Rudolph would have killed again,” Jones said.
Jones got an indictment against Rudolph, but never the chance to try him in court. “I was so hoping by the time I left office that we would have at least captured him,” Jones said. “That didn’t happen. He was on the run for five years.”
Law enforcement captured Rudolph in 2003 and pleaded guilty to the bombing of the clinic and an Atlanta club in 1998. When he came to Birmingham in 2005, Jones made sure clinic staff and Birmingham Police were on the front row.
“We did justice to our officer and justice to our community,” Coppage said. “It was surreal. It was over after all that work.”
U.S. Senate candidate Doug Jones talks about the Birmingham church bombing cases during an interview with the Montgomery Advertiser in Montgomery, Ala. on Wednesday October 25, 2017.Mickey Welsh / Advertiser
16th Street Baptist
While Bill Baxley managed in 1977 to convict Bob Chambliss for his role in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist church, law enforcement for years had suspected others of involvement. A 1965 FBI memo had identified Blanton, Cherry and Herman Cash (who died in 1994) as possible co-conspirators in the case.
“The church was well aware, as the families were, that there were others out there somewhere,” said Rev. Chris Hamlin, who pastored 16th Street Baptist Church in the late 1990s. “Cherry and Blanton — those were very common names.”
The wheels for the next round of convictions began moving in 1993 when black clergy in Birmingham met with the FBI, and the case reopened. Jones took over the case when he became U.S. Attorney four years later.
“The community deserved an answer if we could provide it,” he said. “But at very least, they deserve a real look and an investigation to get to the bottom of it.”
Hamlin also wanted to be certain that prosecutors could actually put the suspects in prison.
“My concern was, ‘Don’t reopen the case if they were not certain they could get the conviction,’” he said. “I didn’t think it was fair to take the families through that.”
It was a formidable undertaking.
“The evidence was old, many witnesses were deceased or had faded memories, and physical evidence had to be located,” Vance said. “It was a dogged determination to track down every piece of evidence where it might be.” Coppage recalled "digging through the basement" of the police department's headquarters to find evidence.
The team had some breaks that previous investigators didn’t. Family members turned on Frank Cherry. Several spoke before the grand jury investigating the case. When his granddaughter spoke to the grand jury in 1999, Cherry told The Associated Press that she was a “dope head” and a “prostitute.”
“Cherry used to run his mouth a lot,” Jones said. “Sometimes when you think you’ve gotten away with murder, you run your mouth a lot. He did that with several people. A number of those folks came forward.”
Thomas Blanton, Jones said, “was not as talkative,” but investigators had a break: A cardboard box in an FBI evidence room contained recording obtained from a bug planted in Blanton’s apartment in June of 1964, where he told his wife he had missed a date with her because “we were making the bomb.” (Baxley said in 2002 he was never told of the existence of the tape when he built his case against Chambliss.) Another witness, who had been working on protecting buildings and who saw Chambliss, Blanton and Cherry and others scoping out the church two weeks before the bombing, also agreed to testify.
Securing the tape into evidence required jumping through “a bunch of hoops,” but prosecutors managed to get it into court, in part thanks to arguments Pryor made before the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.
Blanton went on trial first, in 2001. The proceedings took place in state court, but Jones was able to lead the prosecution. John Cross, the pastor of 16th Street Baptist, told the court about finding the girls’ bodies “all stacked on top of each other, clung together.” A former girlfriend of Blanton’s said he tried to run down a black pedestrian, saying after “All I want is a chance to kill one of those black bastards.” The audio from the tape was played, which included a statement from Blanton that “They ain’t going to catch me when I bomb my next church.”
Blanton’s attorneys challenged the fidelity of the audio and said Blanton never explicitly said he bombed the church. In his closing arguments, Jones’ team flashed images of the girls killed in the bombing and the scene of the church.
Jefferson County sheriff's deputies lead Thomas E. Blanton Jr. out of the courtroom after a jury convicted him of murder in Birmingham on May 1, 2001. (Photo: Dave Martin, AP)
“Tom Blanton saw change and didn’t like it,” Jones told the jury.
The jury took two and a half hours to convict Blanton.
“Doug’s style is grounded in competence,” Vance said. “He is a really good storyteller, in the sense he has a remarkable grasp of the facts and law.”
Blanton was sentenced to life in prison. He remains incarcerated at St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville.
In 2002, Cherry stood trial. Cherry had initially pleaded health issues in trying to avoid trial and claimed that he didn’t learn of the bombing until after. But Cherry faced testimony from family members, including an ex-wife, who testified he “got out of the car and put the bomb under the stairs (of the church) the night before.”
Bragg, who covered the trial for the The New York Times, said Jones “painted a picture” for the jury of the girls getting ready for services at the church.
“That could be because he’s a real smart lawyer, but if you watched him through the course of the trial, you could see he took this personally,” he said. “This was something that offended him.”
Jones said he “felt very, very strongly that those children and those families deserved to have a day in court.”
“That case had such an impact on the community where I grew up,” he said. “It was always a stain. The firehoses and dogs were always a stain. But when four children die in a bomb blast on a Sunday morning in a house of God, it’s hard to erase that stain.”
After six hours of deliberation, the jury convicted Cherry, who, like Blanton, got a sentence of life in prison. Cherry died at Kilby Correctional Facility in 2004.
The convictions, Hamlin said, “sent a powerful signal to other who committed hate crimes against the movement.”
After the trial, Jones would speak about the case around the country.
“I truly underestimated how important those cases were to a lot of people, not just in Alabama but all over America, for people who thought they would never see that justice for those families, or see a white southerner do it,” he said. “It truly makes you appreciate the value of every man, woman, and child in this country regardless of their race, religion or sexual orientation. The worth of people comes into focus.”
'He baits his own hook'
Jones briefly pursued a run for U.S. Senate in 2002 but dropped out due to fundraising issues. He trails Republican nominee Roy Moore, a former Alabama chief justice, in most early polls, but to this point has held his own in fundraising. Vance – whose husband Robert ran a tight race against Moore for chief justice in 2012 -- said Jones is focused on a “ vision of Alabama where there is opportunity for everyone.”
“Everybody in Alabama politics knows what the demographics say,” she said. “There’s no doubt this is going to be a tough, tough race.”
In his spare time, Jones enjoys fishing and hunting, particularly deer hunting, saying there is “nothing like getting out in the quiet of the early afternoon and waiting for the right one to come out.”
“He baits his own hook,” Bragg said. “He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty and he’s not afraid to get a little sunburn.”
Jones and his wife Louise are also active at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Mountain Brook, where they take part in Bible studies, including housing rehabilitation. Rev. Bill Morgan, a former pastor of the church, said “they were just people you could count on.”
“All his life, he’s just been part of his church,” he said. “In my observation, he just sees the natural connection between how you connect your faith with how you lead your life.”
Jones also has a baseball memorabilia collection, with signed balls from Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio as well as come from presidents Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush.
“He’s a real southern guy,” Bragg said. “I think he proves you can be thoughtful and smart as hell and still know which end of the shotgun to hold.”