Moody v. State

Decision Date18 April 2003
PartiesWalter Leroy MOODY, Jr. v. STATE of Alabama.
CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals

Bruce A. Gardner, Huntsville, for appellant.

William H. Pryor, Jr., atty. gen., and Jeremy W. Armstrong, James R. Houts, and Regina F. Speagle, asst. attys. gen., for appellee.


The appellant, Walter Leroy Moody, Jr., was convicted of two counts of capital murder in connection with the December 1989 pipe-bomb murder of Judge Robert S. Vance of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The murder was made capital because it was committed by means of explosives or explosion, see § 13A-5-40(a)(9), Ala.Code 1975, and because Judge Vance was a federal public official and the murder was related to his official position, see § 13A-5-40(a)(11), Ala.Code 1975. Moody was also convicted of assault in the first degree for the serious injuries that Helen Vance, Judge Vance's wife, sustained as a result of the bomb blast, see § 13A-6-20(a)(1), Ala.Code 1975. The jury, by a vote of 11-1, recommended that Moody be sentenced to death for his capital-murder convictions. The trial court accepted the jury's recommendation and sentenced Moody to death. The trial court also sentenced Moody, as a habitual felony offender, to life imprisonment for the first-degree-assault conviction. This appeal followed.


Moody does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions. However, we have reviewed the evidence, and we find that it is sufficient to support Moody's convictions. We summarize the relevant facts.

Around the second week of December 1989, four pipe bombs were sent through the United States mails to different locations in the southeastern United States. On December 16, 1989, the package containing one of those pipe bombs was delivered to the Mountain Brook, Alabama, residence of Judge Vance. The package was addressed to Judge Vance and showed the name and Newnan, Georgia, address of one of his judicial colleagues as the return addressee. When Judge Vance opened the package, the bomb inside detonated, killing him almost instantly. Judge Vance's wife, Helen Vance, was seriously injured by the blast. The pipe bomb was constructed of a steel pipe approximately five and one-half inches in length and one and one-half inches in diameter, sealed at each end with threaded end caps; it contained smokeless gunpowder and a homemade detonator fashioned from the hollowed-out barrel of a ballpoint pen. The device was designed to explode when the lid of the box in which it was contained was opened. Numerous nails had been secured to the pipe with rubber bands; the nails served as projectiles upon detonation.

Two days later, on December 18, 1989, Robert Robinson, a civil rights attorney in Savannah, Georgia, was killed after opening a package containing a similar pipe bomb, which had been delivered to Robinson's Savannah law office. That same day, a third pipe bomb was received at the courthouse of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta, Georgia. A court security officer using an X-ray machine discovered the device, which was disarmed by bomb-squad technicians before it could detonate. The following day, on December 19, 1989, a fourth pipe bomb was received — this one at the Jacksonville, Florida, office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ("NAACP"); the bomb was discovered and disarmed before it could injure anyone.1

Testimony presented at Moody's trial indicated that the four pipe bombs were very similar in construction and design. All of the bombs had been placed in reinforced cardboard boxes that had been painted inside with black latex paint. All were delivered in packages wrapped in brown paper, tied with string, wrapped with the same kind of tape, posted with the same kind of priority mail stamps, and addressed with the same kind of mailing labels. The addresses on all the mailing labels appeared to have been typed with the same typewriter. All of the bombs were constructed of steel pipes filled with Hercules Red Dot brand smokeless gunpowder. While the pipe that made up the bomb that killed Judge Vance was sealed at both ends with end caps that had been screwed into place, the ends of the other three bombs had been sealed with welded end plates that were joined by a steel rod extending through the center of each pipe. The steel rods were secured at the ends by hexagonal nuts. Nails had been attached, by rubber bands, to the outside of each pipe, and each bomb had the same kind of triggering mechanism and detonator. All of the bombs used C-cell batteries as their electrical source, and all had the same type of modified battery holder in them. Typed notes threatening death were contained inside the boxes in which three of the four bombs had been sent. (Only the bomb sent to the federal courthouse in Atlanta was not accompanied by such a note.) There were numerous other similarities in the details of the bombs' composition, in the construction of the boxes that held the bombs, and in the packaging of the devices.2 Based on the many similarities, forensic investigators believed that all four bombs were made and sent by the same person.

In the days that followed the killings of Judge Vance and Robert Robinson, every judge on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals received typed letters in which the sender took credit for the bombings and threatened the recipients with assassination, "because of the federal courts' calloused [sic] disregard for the administration of justice," in the name of an organization known as "Americans for a Competent Federal Judicial System." Similar death-threat letters were received at the Atlanta and Jacksonville offices of the NAACP. A separate typed death-threat letter, addressed to news anchorwoman Brenda Wood, was received at the WAGA television station in Atlanta.

The death-threat letters were all signed "010187" and specified that the writer was using this number as a secret code and that it was not to be disclosed to the public. All of the letters were postmarked from Atlanta and were posted with a 25-cent American-Flag-Over-Yosemite stamp. The packages containing three of the four pipe bombs were posted with the same kind of American-Flag-Over-Yosemite stamp. An analyst for the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") concluded that the letters received by the judges on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals and at the Atlanta and Jacksonville offices of the NAACP had all been prepared with the same manual typewriter used to type the addresses on the mailing labels affixed to all four of the pipe-bomb packages. The letter addressed to Brenda Wood had been prepared with a different typewriter.

Testimony revealed that on August 21, 1989, about four months before the murder of Judge Vance, the NAACP regional office in Atlanta had received through the mail a tear-gas bomb, the triggering mechanism and packaging of which were similar in numerous respects to the four pipe bombs mailed in December 1989. The tear-gas bomb exploded when an NAACP employee opened the box in which it was packaged, filling the office with tear gas. Like three of the four December 1989 pipe bombs, the tear-gas bomb was accompanied by a typed death-threat note. The package containing the tear-gas bomb bore a false return address from Atlanta.

In the days following the receipt of the tear-gas bomb at the NAACP office, various news media outlets throughout the eastern United States received copies of a typed letter in which the anonymous sender complained about the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals'"callous disregard for justice"; in the letter, the sender issued a "Declaration of War" and threatened nerve-gas attacks against "densely populated cities." All of the letters were posted with a 25-cent American-Flag-Over-Yosemite stamp.3 It was determined that the letters had been prepared with the same manual typewriter used to type the address on the mailing label affixed to the package containing the tear-gas bomb.

The State presented evidence indicating that the August 1989 tear-gas bomb and the four December 1989 pipe bombs — including the one that killed Judge Vance — were all constructed and sent by the appellant, Walter Leroy Moody, Jr., as part of Moody's declared "war" on the court system. That war stemmed from Moody's conviction in federal court, almost 17 years earlier, on charges of possessing a pipe bomb. In May 1972, a pipe bomb had exploded in Moody's residence in Macon, Georgia. That bomb, which had been contained inside a package addressed to an automobile dealer who had repossessed Moody's car, had exploded when opened by Moody's then wife, seriously injuring her. Moody had been arrested and charged with the manufacture and possession of a pipe bomb. During his 1972 trial on those charges in federal court, Moody had taken the stand in his own defense and maintained that a man named "Gene Wallace"4 had secretly planted the bomb in Moody's home, allegedly to harm Moody. The jury had found Moody guilty of possessing a pipe bomb, although it had acquitted him of the charge of manufacturing it. Moody served three years in the federal penitentiary for the conviction.

After he was released from prison, Moody became obsessed with overturning his conviction, believing that it had tarnished his good name and that it stood in the way of his aspirations of becoming a lawyer. Several years before he went to prison, Moody had attended law school without finishing, and in the mid 1980s he inquired into resuming those studies; however, he learned that a felony conviction would disqualify him from practicing law in Georgia. In addition to seeing his conviction as standing between him and a legal career, Moody had convinced himself that he had been unfairly convicted — that he was the victim of an immense conspiracy involving, in his mind, corrupt...

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