BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Nearly four decades after a church bombing killed four black girls preparing for worship services, a second ex-Ku Klux Klansman has been convicted in the deadly blast that galvanized the civil rights movement.

Even before a handcuffed Thomas Blanton Jr. was led from the courtroom Tuesday, questions were raised about when, and if, prosecutors would now attempt to try Bobby Frank Cherry — the only other living suspect in the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

A grand jury indicted both men last year in the girls' killings. They had been scheduled to go to trial at the same time, but Circuit Judge James Garrett delayed Cherry's trial because of questions about his mental competency.

"Now it's time to go after Cherry. I am tired of hearing about his mental competency. They have tried mentally retarded black men," said the Rev. Abraham Woods, who helped persuade the FBI to reopen the bombing case.

Prosecutor Doug Jones said the decision would not be made until an evaluation of Cherry's mental competency was completed.

On Tuesday, a jury of eight whites and four blacks deliberated for 2 1/2 hours before finding Blanton, 62, guilty of first-degree murder. They had heard a week of legal arguments and evidence, including photos of the girls and audiotape secretly recorded 37 years earlier. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Asked by the judge if he had any comment, Blanton replied: "I guess the good Lord will settle it on Judgment Day."

It was never made clear what Blanton did in either putting the bomb together or placing it outside the church, but the swift verdict was sweet news for many black Birmingham residents, who have lived with painful memories of the bombing.

"It's an emotional experience," said Estelle Boyd, a member of the church now and in 1963. Boyd said she is a friend of family members of the four girls: Denise McNair, who was 11, and Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson, who were all 14. "This means a great deal to the families. If you have children, you are able to empathize," she said.

NAACP Chairman Julian Bond said the Blanton conviction was commendable.

"If Southerners want to put this era behind them, this is the best way to do it — by bringing to justice the terrorists who tried and failed to stop the movement for democracy," Bond said.

Of Cherry, he said: "As long as he's living, and if he's able to stand trial, then he needs to face a jury of his peers."

The cases against Blanton and Cherry are the latest from the turbulent civil rights era to be revived by prosecutors. Byron De La Beckwith was convicted in 1994 of assassinating civil rights leader Medgar Evers in 1963, and former Klan imperial wizard Sam Bowers was convicted three years ago of the 1966 firebomb-killing of an NAACP leader.

The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church had been a gathering place for civil rights protests in the weeks before the Sept. 15, 1963. The deadly blast forced moderates off the sidelines and gave the civil rights movement new momentum. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed by Congress.

Denise's parents, Chris and Maxine McNair, didn't comment as they left the courthouse after the verdict against Blanton was read Tuesday. Chris McNair was hugged by Jones, who fought back tears as he told reporters: "We're happy for the families. We're happy for the girls."

Carole's mother, Alpha Robertson, said she was "very happy that justice came down."

"I didn't know if it would come in my lifetime," she told The New York Times.

Defense attorney John Robbins he would appeal for a new trial, citing the judge's refusal to move it out of Birmingham and the use of tapes the FBI had had since the mid-1960s. Robbins contends the tapes were inadmissible, illegally recorded and violated Blanton's right to a speedy trial.

On one tape, Blanton was heard telling a Klansman-turned-informant he would not be caught "when I bomb my next church."

Robbins said the jury's speed in reaching a verdict showed it was caught up in the emotion of the infamous case. "This case has been going on for 37 years and there have been books written and magazine articles over that time saying my client was guilty," he said.

Jones said he didn't feel the verdict had been tainted by the decades.

"They say justice delayed is justice denied. Well, folks, I don't believe that at all," Jones said. "Justice delayed is still justice."

Blanton was among four Klansman identified as suspects within weeks of the bombing. Robert Chambliss was convicted of murder in 1977 and died in prison. Cherry's trial is pending. And Herman Cash died without being charged.

The Justice Department concluded 20 years ago that former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had blocked prosecution of Klansmen in the bombing. The case was reopened following a 1993 meeting in Birmingham between FBI officials and black ministers, including Woods.

The investigation was not revealed publicly until 1997, when agents went to Texas to talk to Cherry, who is now 71.