Walter Leroy Moody Jr. has been executed for the death of a judge, who was killed by a bomb mailed from Newnan by Moody in 1989.
Moody was 83-years-old when he was executed April 19, “the oldest prisoner put to death in the U.S. in modern times,” according to the Associated Press. Moody was pronounced dead at 8:42 p.m. following an injection at the Holman Correctional Facility near Atmore Ala. He had no last statement and did not respond when an official asked if he had any last words shortly before the chemicals began flowing.
Moody traveled to Newnan in December 1989 where he mailed a package wrapped in brown paper at downtown post office. On Dec. 16, the package arrived at the home of U.S. 11th Circuit Judge Robert Smith Vance in Mountain Brook, Ala.
Vance died when he opened the package in his kitchen after a morning of errands and yard work. His wife, Helen, was seriously injured.
Moody, who living in his hometown of Rex in Clayton County in 1989, is thought to have carried out a wave of mail bombings across the South that year, according to the AP. He was also convicted of sending a mail bomb that killed Robert Robinson, an alderman in Savannah.
News accounts at the time of the crimes indicated bombs sent to Vance, Robinson, a federal court office in Atlanta and an NAACP office in Jacksonville, Fla., were all mailed from Georgia cities. The bomb mailed to Robinson was sent from Warner Robins and the NAACP package from either Warner Robins or Macon.
The Atlanta package was mailed in Atlanta.
The bombs were packed in nails with a mechanism set to explode when the package was opened. Each was in a box wrapped with brown paper with a red-and-white return address label. Each package measured 12 by 9 by 4 inches.
It initially appeared that there was a racial element to the case. Robinson was African-American and Vance, appointed to the federal judiciary by Jimmy Carter, had earlier earned a reputation as a civil rights attorney.
However, in Moody's 1996 state court trial, prosecutors alleged that Moody sent the bombs to Vance and Robinson because of frustration and hatred over being unable to overturn his 1972 conviction for possessing a pipe bomb, according to The Washington Post.
Moody had attended law school in Atlanta, but the conviction prevented him from becoming a lawyer.
Moody was convicted in 1991 in federal court on dozens of bomb-related charges and sentenced to seven life terms plus 400 years. He was sentenced to death in the 1996 state court trial for Vance’s murder.
Alabama prosecutors described Moody as a meticulous coward who killed by mail because of his obsession with getting revenge on the legal system, and then committed additional package bombings to make it look like the killings were racially motivated, according to the AP.
Moody became the oldest U.S. inmate put to death since executions resumed in the U.S. in the 1970s, according to the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center. His attorneys argued in court filings and a clemency petition to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey that his age and vein condition would make lethal injection more difficult.
The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily stayed execution plans on the evening of April 19 to consider Moody's late appeals, but later lifted the stay without comment, allowing the execution to go forward.
Vance's son, Robert Vance Jr., now a circuit judge in Jefferson County and Democratic candidate for chief justice in Alabama, told the AP it is important that people remember how his father lived, not just how he died.
"He was a great judge, a great lawyer before that, and a great father," he said. As chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party in the 1960s and 1970s, Vance worked to bring African Americans into the party and often "butted heads" with segregationist Gov. George Wallace, his son said.
Friends told the wire service the senior Vance quietly fought for the rights of the underprivileged, as both a jurist and a politician.
Moody had always maintained his innocence.
In recent weeks, Moody had sent a letter to the younger Vance claiming he was the innocent victim of a government conspiracy. "Had my Dad been murdered, I would want to know who had done it," Moody wrote. The younger Vance said he put the letter in the trash.
Vance told the AP he had to make peace with his father's death, but has no doubt Moody is guilty. He did not witness the execution.
Moody's attorney, Spencer Hahn, said he wanted to know what the prison system "gave him before to knock him out and prevent him from getting to give his last words. There was no dignity in that room. This dishonored the memory of Judge Vance and Mr. Robinson," Hahn said.
Alabama Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn told the AP that Moody was not given any sedatives.
In their unsuccessful clemency petition, Moody’s attorneys argued that his victim was opposed to the death penalty, so halting the execution would honor Vance's beliefs. Vance's son told the AP his father opposed the death penalty personally, but he also believed in following the law.
Ray Jenkins, an attorney and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who is a Georgia native, wrote "Blind Vengeance: The Roy Moody Mail Bomb Murders," which was published in 1997 and reissued in 2012.