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Walter Leroy MOODY Jr.

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Bombs - Revenge
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: December 16/18, 1989
Date of arrest: July 11, 1990
Date of birth: March 24, 1935
Victims profile: Robert Smith Vance, 58 (Judge of the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit) / Robert E. Robinson (Georgia civil rights lawyer)
Method of murder: Packages containing a nail bomb
Location: Alabama/Georgia, USA
Status: Sentenced to death in Alabama in 1997
 
 

 
 

The Mail Bomb Murders

FBI.gov

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.

Meanwhile, with 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 of suspects.

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 (May 10, 1931December 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 to 1977.

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.

On 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. Daronco.

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,
v.
Walter
Leroy Moody, Jr., Defendant-appellant

No. 91-8810

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.

Oct. 9, 1992

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.

Before ERVIN*, Chief Judge, HALL*, Circuit Judge, and BUTZNER*, Senior Circuit Judge.

K. K. HALL, Circuit Judge:

Walter 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.

I.

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 at trial.

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.

II.

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.

III.

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).

IV.

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).

V.

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.

A.

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).

B.

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.

C.

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 challenge.

VI.

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 victim.

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.

AFFIRMED.


SEX: M RACE: W TYPE: N MOTIVE: PC-extremist

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 incident.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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