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Ala. set to execute oldest death row inmate for pipe bomb murders

Walter Moody was convicted of mailing the bomb that killed Judge Robert Vance and seriously injured his wife


By Melissa Brown
Montgomery Advertiser, Ala.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama on Thursday is set to execute its oldest death row inmate, an 83-year-old man convicted of mailing a deadly pipe bomb to a Birmingham judge in 1989.

Walter Moody was convicted of mailing the bomb that killed U.S. 11th Circuit Judge Robert Vance, 58, and seriously injured his wife, Helen, in the kitchen of their Mountain Brook home in December 1989. A similar bomb killed a Georgia civil rights attorney, Robert Robinson, at his Savannah law office the same month.

This March 2017 photo provided by the Alabama Department of Corrections shows Alabama death row inmate Walter Leroy Moody Jr., who is scheduled to be executed on April 19, 2018. (Alabama Department of Corrections via AP)
This March 2017 photo provided by the Alabama Department of Corrections shows Alabama death row inmate Walter Leroy Moody Jr., who is scheduled to be executed on April 19, 2018. (Alabama Department of Corrections via AP)

Moody was convicted in federal court in 1991 on 71 charges before an Alabama jury sentenced Moody to the death penalty in 1997.

The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year declined to take up Moody's appeal, leading Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall to set an April 19 execution date. Moody on Thursday filed a stay of execution motion over jurisdiction issues.

Moody, who maintains his innocence in the case, has previously argued his federal sentence of seven life terms plus 400 years should take precedent over the state's death penalty sentence, and that Alabama is holding him unlawfully.

"We’re fighting until we can’t fight anymore, and we appreciate that the courts are giving us an opportunity to be heard,” said Christine Freeman, executive director of the Middle District of Alabama Federal Defender Program.

Vance's son, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Bob Vance, said the family doesn't plan to attend Moody's execution.

"I got closure in my life when Mr. Moody was convicted," Vance said. "I realized that he would never be in a position to hurt anyone else.That was the point that was most important to me. The execution coming up next week really, to me, doesn’t add anything to that. I’ve moved on, having gotten that peace of mind with the realization that he would no longer pose a danger to anyone."

The December 1991 explosions set off a massive federal investigation which found and disarmed two additional bombs at an Atlanta circuit court and Florida NAACP office, but also hit several dead ends.

Federal agents at first focused on Alabama salvage shop owner Robert O'Ferrell, who investigators believed owned the typewriter used by a letter writer claiming credit for the bombs.

Investigators ultimately linked Moody to the crimes through a 1972 bombing incident, in which Moody's then-wife Hazel was injured by a homemade bomb in their Georgia home. He was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for possessing the bomb.

Bob Vance still finds Moody's murky motive frustrating.

"When something like that happens, one of the first things that torments you is, 'Who would do this?' That question has been answered," Bob Vance said. "The second question is, 'Why?"

Investigators originally believed the bombings to be racially motivated. Vance, who was white, was politically active and progressive on civil rights issues, his son said.

Prosecutors later alleged Moody harbored an obsession over his 1972 conviction, and anger at the court system motivated Moody in the 1989 bombings. Moody hoped the civil rights links would throw investigators off his scent, prosecutors said.

"There wasn’t any real good reason why Moody targeted my dad," Vance said. "It’s always so frustrating when you think about it, it’s almost a random act of violence."

"I try to focus on my dad's life more than the circumstances surrounding my dad's death He was a one-of-a-kind, larger-than-life person in many respects," Bob Vance said. " … He was a special guy. He was a great dad. I miss him every day."

Moody's execution date is the fourth scheduled in Alabama this year. One execution has been carried out.

In March, the state executed 50-year-old Michael Wayne Eggers for a 2000 Walker County murder.

The U.S. Supreme Court in January issued a temporary stay 30 minutes before Vernon Madison's execution was scheduled to begin. In February, state officials called off the execution of Doyle Lee Hamm. A doctor's report commissioned by Hamm's legal team found the execution team puncture Hamm's legs and groin at least 11 times in an attempt to set an IV.

©2018 the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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