The Mail Bomb
Getting a plainly
wrapped package in the mail wasn’t all that surprising. It was the
holidays, after all. What was inside was another matter. It was a bomb.
When federal appeals
Judge Robert Vance opened the small brown parcel in the kitchen of his
suburban Alabama home on December 16, 1989—15 years ago this month—it
exploded, killing him instantly and seriously injuring his wife.
Two days later,
virtually the same scenario happened again. This time, the victim
was Atlanta Attorney Robert Robertson.
It wasn’t over.
Two more bombs mysteriously appeared. The third, sent to the federal
courthouse in Atlanta, was intercepted. A fourth was recovered after
being mailed to the Jacksonville office of the NAACP. Through brave and
careful work, ATF personnel defused the one bomb and Florida police bomb
experts the other.
The murders and serial
bombings stunned the nation. Who’d be spiteful enough to send mail bombs
during the holidays?
That’s what we aimed
to find out. We started with the obvious. Both men were known for
their work in civil rights. But that turned out to be a red herring.
extensive help from U.S. postal inspectors, we’d gathered the remnants
of the bombs and packages for our Lab to analyze, learned the path the
packages had taken through the postal system, and assembled a long list
A break came when an
ATF expert was contacted by a colleague who had helped defuse one of the
bombs. He thought it resembled one he’d seen 17 years before. And he
remembered the name of the person who had built it—Walter Leroy Moody.
With this lead, the
Bureau and its partners began an extensive probe of the events—purchases,
contacts, phone calls, etc.—and ultimately linked both the exploded and
unexploded bombs to each other and to Moody. Court authorized
surveillance of Moody at home and in jail (he talked to himself)
provided additional evidence. Other leads were followed, suspects
eliminated or linked to the crimes, and detailed analysis done on every
bit of evidence, information, and trail that we came across.
Over the next year,
Moody’s motive became clear. We found a pattern of experimentation
with bombs dating back to the early 1970s when Moody was convicted of
possessing a bomb that had hurt his wife when it exploded. His
conviction and failed appeals in that case had led him to harbor a long-festering
resentment of the court system. His contact with Judge Vance in a 1980s
case led to even deeper resentment and a personal animus that led to
revenge. The other bombs, we determined, were meant to make us suspect
that racism was the motive.
By the spring of 1991,
with the help of prosecutor (and future FBI Director) Louis Freeh, a
solid case had been developed. The trial was difficult. Moody had made
every effort to conceal his connection to the bombings.
Success. On June
28, 1991, based on the extensive investigative work of the FBI, the ATF,
the IRS, the U.S. Marshals, the Georgia State Police and many others,
the jury found Moody guilty of more than 70 charges and sentenced him to
life in prison.
It ended up one of the
largest cases in our history—and an important one, as protecting our
nation’s judges is a responsibility we take very seriously.
Robert Smith Vance
16, 1989) was a federal appellate judge in the United
States, and one of the few judges in American history to have been
murdered as the result of his judicial service.
Vance was born in Talladega County, Alabama. He
obtained his undergraduate degree at the University of Alabama and
earned law degrees from the University of Alabama School of Law and
George Washington University Law School. After military service, Vance
worked as a lawyer in private practice in Birmingham, Alabama from 1956
to 1977. He was also chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party from 1966
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter nominated Vance to a
federal judgeship on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth
Circuit, whose jurisdiction then included six southern states, including
Alabama. In 1981, the territory of the Fifth Circuit was divided into
two circuits, and Vance was assigned to the United States Court of
Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, on which he served until his death.
December 16, 1989,
Vance was killed instantly at his home when he opened a package
containing a nail bomb. Vance's wife, Helen, was seriously injured in
the blast. After an intensive investigation, the federal government
charged Walter Leroy Moody, Jr. with the murders of Judge Vance and of
Savannah, Georgia civil rights attorney Robert E. Robinson, who was
killed in a separate explosion. Moody was also charged with mailing
bombs that were defused at the Eleventh Circuit's headquarters and at
the Jacksonville office of the NAACP.
Moody had previously been convicted in 1972 of
possession of a bomb that had exploded in his house, and served four
years in federal prison. Prosecutors speculated that Moody's motive for
killing Judge Vance was revenge against a member of the court that had
refused to reverse that conviction, although Vance had not actually been
a member of the panel that considered Moody's earlier case. Vance became
the third federal judge in the twentieth century to be assassinated as a
result of his judicial service, after John H. Wood, Jr. and Richard J.
Moody's trial for murder and other crimes was
presided over by U.S. District Judge Edward J. Devitt of the District of
Minnesota, after an order was entered directing the recusal of all the
circuit and district judges within the Eleventh Circuit. Moody was
convicted on all counts and sentenced to multiple life terms.
Subsequently, Moody was also convicted of Judge Vance's murder by an
Alabama state-court jury, and sentenced to death in 1997. He is still on
death row at the Holman Correctional Facility near Atmore, Alabama.
977 F.2d 1420
United States of America, Plaintiff-appellee,
Moody, Jr., Defendant-appellant
United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.
Oct. 9, 1992
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of
Chief Judge, HALL*, Circuit Judge, and BUTZNER*, Senior Circuit Judge.
K. K. HALL, Circuit Judge:
Leroy Moody, Jr., appeals the judgment
of conviction and the sentence imposed on thirteen counts of obstruction
of justice and related offenses. We find no error, and we affirm.
Moody was convicted in 1972
of possessing a pipe bomb and he served three years in federal prison.
Beginning in 1985, he initiated a scheme to have the conviction
overturned. In an attempt to demonstrate his innocence, he bribed an
acquaintance, Julie Linn-West, to say that she had firsthand knowledge
that someone else planted the bomb in Moody's
home in 1972. This tangled web soon enveloped Linn-West's mother, Susan
Eckstrom, who would later corroborate the fabricated story in court.
Moody filed a coram nobis petition in 1986 in
the District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. The petition was
denied in 1988, and we affirmed the denial in August, 1989.
In early 1990, Moody became
aware that his connection to Linn-West and Eckstrom was being
investigated, and he contacted Linn-West to insure her and her mother's
cooperation. A $400 payment to Linn-West, with a promise of more if she
had to testify again, was followed by a threat to Linn-West that her
mother's life would be in danger if she (Eckstrom) cooperated with the
authorities. Linn-West, however, had already decided to cooperate with
the government, and video and audio tapes of many of
Moody's meetings and conversations with her were later introduced
In early 1990, Moody was
also under investigation for the 1989 pipe bomb murders of Judge Robert
Vance of the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and Robert
Robinson, a Savannah lawyer. In February 1990, a search pursuant to a
warrant was made of Moody's home in connection
with the murder investigation. Moody was
indicted on July 10, 1990, on charges stemming from the coram nobis
matter; indictments on charges related to the murders followed on
November 7, 1990. An additional search of his home on July 10 was
conducted pursuant to a warrant that was largely based on evidence
discovered during the February search. Moody's
motion to suppress all items discovered during these searches was denied.
Following a jury trial, Moody
was convicted of all thirteen counts. He received a 120-month sentence
under the Sentencing Guidelines and a consecutive five-year sentence on
a single pre-guidelines count. He appeals his conviction and sentence.
In February 1990, in the context of a civil
proceeding initiated by members of the press to obtain access to the
February 8 search warrant, all judges of this court entered an order
recusing themselves "from participating in this case and in any other
cases relating to the investigation of the murder of the Honorable
Robert S. Vance in which Walter
Leroy Moody is a
party." Judge W.D. Owens, Jr., of the Middle District of Georgia recused
himself from hearing the instant case on October 4, 1990, and Chief
Judge Tjoflat of this court designated Judge Anthony A. Alaimo of the
Southern District of Georgia on October 9, 1990. Moody
argues that Chief Judge Tjoflat, by virtue of the Eleventh Circuit's
recusal order, lacked the authority to designate a judge in the instant
case. The crux of this issue is whether the act of designating a trial
judge is a ministerial act or an exercise of substantive authority. We
review this legal question under a de novo standard.
There is no question that a federal judge may perform
ministerial acts even after he has disqualified himself from a
particular case. See In re Cement Antitrust Litigation, 673 F.2d 1020,
1024-25 (9th Cir.1982) (judge who was disqualified by reason of a
financial interest could reassign a case). Chief Judge Tjoflat's
assignment of Judge Alaimo was a purely ministerial act, without any
implication concerning the merits of the case.
Moody also moved to recuse
Judge Alaimo because of the appearance of bias arising from
Moody's (then alleged) involvement in the Vance
and Robinson murders. Judge Alaimo denied the motion on the ground that
the purported basis for his bias was "simply too attenuated to raise
even a reasonable appearance of impropriety." We find no abuse of
discretion in this decision, and we affirm on the reasoning of the
district court. United States v. Moody, CR/A
No. 90-41-MAC (M.D.Ga. Nov. 19, 1990).
Moody raises two issues that
were also raised in his motion for a new trial: (1) whether the court
erred in failing to conduct a waiver hearing after
Moody requested that a general insanity instruction not be given
to the jury (the instruction was not given); and (2) whether the court
erred in denying the motion to suppress evidence discovered during the
searches of his home. In denying the motion for a new trial, the
district court discussed each of these issues in depth. We find no error
in the court's decision, and we adopt the district court's reasoning.
United States v. Moody, 763 F.Supp. 589 (M.D.Ga.1991).
To the extent that Moody reiterates the same
arguments relative to the search warrants that he advanced in his appeal
from the murder-related convictions, we expressly adopt herein our
opinion in that case. United States v. Moody,
977 F.2d 1425 (11th Cir.1992).
Moody moved for acquittal on
several counts, both at the close of the government's case and at the
close of all the evidence. The motions were denied, and he now raises
the same issues in his appeal. Although characterized as attacks on the
sufficiency of the evidence, the issues are actually ones of statutory
construction; as such, we apply a de novo standard of review.
Moody was convicted on four
obstruction of justice counts related to his attempt in 1985-86 to carry
out his plan to have his 1972 conviction vacated. Specifically, these
four counts involved Moody's inducements to
Linn-West and her mother to make false declarations and to give perjured
testimony concerning the coram nobis matter. He contends that the
statute of conviction, 18 U.S.C. § 1503, does not cover witness
tampering. The argument is without merit.
Moody's argument is premised
on a 1982 amendment to § 1503, which removed a specific reference to "witnesses,"
and the concomitant addition of a new section, 18 U.S.C. § 1512, which
deals specifically with "tampering with a witness, victim or an
informant." Victim Witness Protection Act, Pub.L. No. 97-291, §§ 4(a),
(c), § 96 Stat. 1248, 1249-1253 (Oct. 12, 1982). We have previously
reserved the question of "[w]hether Congress intended to remove
proscribed conduct against witnesses from the scope of [§ 1503's]
omnibus clause...." United States v. Brand, 775 F.2d 1460, 1465 (11th
Cir.1985). We now hold that 18 U.S.C. § 1503 is broad enough to cover
such proscribed acts against witnesses.
The 1982 amendment of § 1503 left untouched the
omnibus clause making it a criminal offense to "... corruptly or by
threats or force ... influence[ ], obstruct[ ], or impede[ ], or
endeavor[ ] to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of
justice...." We now join the majority of circuits in holding that § 1512
is not the exclusive vehicle for prosecution for witness tampering.
United States v. Branch, 850 F.2d 1080 (5th Cir.1988), cert. denied, 488
U.S. 1018, 109 S.Ct. 816, 102 L.Ed.2d 806 (1989); United States v.
Risken, 788 F.2d 1361 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 923, 107 S.Ct.
329, 93 L.Ed.2d 302 (1986); United States v. Rovetuso, 768 F.2d 809 (7th
Cir.1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1076, 106 S.Ct. 838, 88 L.Ed.2d 809
(1986); United States v. Lester, 749 F.2d 1288 (9th Cir.1984). In so
doing, we expressly reject the position taken by the Second Circuit.
United States v. Hernandez, 730 F.2d 895 (2d Cir.1984) (holding that
witness intimidation is exclusively covered by § 1512); United States v.
Masterpol, 940 F.2d 760 (2nd Cir.1991) (construing 1988 amendment to §
1512 as evidence of Congress's intent that witnesses were removed
entirely from § 1503).
In a related attack on his conviction on count 2,
Moody argues that the false affidavit, which
was appended to the coram nobis filing, could not be a subject of a §
1503 conviction because no "judicial proceeding" was pending at the time
the affidavit was signed by Linn-West. Count 2 alleged, however, that
the obstruction of justice consisted also of the submission of the
affidavit to the court in the coram nobis case. The evidence sufficed to
meet the "pending judicial proceeding" element of § 1503.
Moody attacks the statute of
conviction for counts 7 and 9, 18 U.S.C. § 201(c)(2), as overbroad and
vague. These counts involved a bribe given to Linn-West and one promised
to Eckstrom. The argument is that § 201(c)(2) does not expressly require
a showing of evil intent on the bribe-giver's part or even that the
testimony of the witness be false. We believe, however, that the statute
is neither unconstitutionally overbroad or vague.
Section 201(c)(2) makes it a criminal offense to "directly
or indirectly [ ] give[ ], offer[ ], or promise[ ] anything of value to
any person, for or because of the testimony under oath or affirmation
given or to be given by such person as a witness upon a trial, hearing
or other proceeding, before any court...." A statute that regulates
conduct, as opposed to pure speech, is subject to invalidation on
overbreadth grounds only if the "overbreadth [is] ... not only ... real,
but substantial as well, judged in relation to the statute's plainly
legitimate sweep." Broadrick v. Oklahoma, 413 U.S. 601, 615, 93 S.Ct.
2908, 2917, 37 L.Ed.2d 830 (1973). Moody's
conduct was clearly within the statute's "legitimate sweep," and he
fails to demonstrate that applications that might go beyond
constitutional limits are either real or substantial.
Moody's overbreadth argument fails.
A criminal statute is not unconstitutionally vague if
it "define[s] the criminal offense with sufficient definiteness that
ordinary people can understand what conduct is prohibited and in a
manner that does not encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement."
Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U.S. 352, 357, 103 S.Ct. 1855, 1858, 75 L.Ed.2d
903 (1983). Due process is violated, however, when men of ordinary
intelligence must guess at a statute's meaning. Marshall v. City of
Atlanta, Bureau of Services, 614 F.Supp. 581, 584 (N.D.Ga.1984), aff'd,
770 F.2d 174 (11th Cir.1985). Section 201(c)(2) is sufficiently clear.
Giving something of value "for or because of" a
person's testimony obviously proscribes a bribe for false testimony;
persons of ordinary intelligence would come to no other conclusion. See
Geaneas v. Willets, 911 F.2d 579, 583-85 (11th Cir.1990), cert. denied,
--- U.S. ----, 111 S.Ct. 1431, 113 L.Ed.2d 484 (1991) (rejecting
vagueness challenge to similar provision now codified at 18 U.S.C. §
201(c)(1)). We reject Moody's vagueness
The offense level calculation of the Guidelines
portion of Moody's sentence began with U.S.S.G.
§ 2J1.2 (Obstruction of Justice). Moody
contends that the district court erred in applying the specific offense
characteristic in § 2J1.2(b)(1) (threatening harm to another) because
the pertinent threat was never communicated to Eckstrom, the intended
The conduct underlying the application of §
2J1.2(b)(1) was Moody's statement to Linn-West
that he had connections to the Miami Mafia and that if the Mafia were to
find out that Eckstrom "had said anything to anybody," both he and
Eckstrom would be murdered. The district court concluded that these
statements to Linn-West, despite not having been made directly to
Eckstrom, constituted threats to cause injury within the meaning of §
2J1.2(b)(1). Moody argues that the
communication of the threat must be directly to the potential victim,
but the guideline speaks only of "threatening to cause physical injury
to a person ... in order to obstruct the administration of justice...."
The factual finding underlying the court's decision to apply the 8-level
increase, that Moody intended that Linn-West
relay the threat to her mother, cannot be seriously disputed. We find no
error in the court's application of the specific offense characteristic.
Moody's final attack on his
sentence involves a comparison between the conduct for which he received
an offense level increase 67% over the base offense level and the
specific characteristic increase a defendant would receive for what he
terms "more serious forms of conduct." This argument depends heavily on
Moody's minimization of the seriousness of his
threats. However, a threat on the life of a witness, which was clearly
intended to be communicated to the witness, strikes at the heart of our
system of justice, and Moody's attempt to
disparage the seriousness of this conduct is unavailing.
SEX: M RACE: W TYPE: N MOTIVE:
MO: Racist mail bomber; killed
a judge and an attorney
DISPOSITION: Life without
parole in federal prison; condemned in Ala., 1997.
Dec. 16, 1989 — 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
Judge Robert Smith Vance is killed when a mail bomb that was sent to his
Alabama residence explodes. Savannah civil rights attorney Robert E.
Robinson is killed in a separate explosion the same day. Walter Leroy
Moody is later arrested and convicted of the murders of Vance and
Robinson. Pictured: Vance's home.
Bombing Walter Leroy Moody Jr. is shackled and under
tight security, as he is led into the Federal Courthouse for the 2nd day
in a row, during a bond hearing on charges stemming from a 1972 bombing