VanPac News History

Copyright 1991 Gannett Company Inc.  

June 5, 1991, Wednesday, FINAL EDITION


LENGTH: 679 words

HEADLINE: Mail-Bomb murder trial opens;
2 killed in 1989 explosions

BYLINE: Kevin T. McGee



Walter Leroy Moody Jr. went on trial Tuesday in what a prosecutor called the racially motivated mail-Bomb deaths of a federal judge and a civil rights lawyer.

Prosecutor Howard Shapiro told the 12 jurors and four alternates, including one black, that Moody's failure to get a 1972 Bomb conviction overturned triggered in him a hatred for blacks, whom he saw as able to get action in court.

''As the details are pieced together, you will hear the story of one man responsible for the awful and awesome carnage,'' Shapiro said in opening arguments.

Moody, 57, of Rex, Ga., is charged with the 1989 deaths of 11th U.S. Circuit Court Judge Robert Vance of Mountain Brook, Ala., and civil rights lawyer Robert Robinson, an alderman in Savannah, Ga.

''He saw Vance and Robinson as part of a system that guaranteed rights for some while denying others,'' Shapiro said. ''He saw the NAACP as enforcing double standards.''

Vance was targeted because ''he championed black civil rights'' in his rulings and Robinson because he did civil rights legal work, Shapiro said.

Vance, who was white, was killed Dec. 16, 1989, by a package mailed to his home. Robinson, who was black, died two days later after opening a package sent to his office.

A 71-count indictment also charges Moody with injuring Vance's wife, Helen, and mailing threats to 17 federal judges in Georgia, Alabama and Florida, bombs to NAACP offices in the South and death threats to civil rights officials.

If convicted, Moody faces up to life in prison.

The prosecution's case includes letters sent to judges reading in part: ''Judge: Americans for a Competent Federal Judicial System shall assassinate you because of the federal court's calloused disregard for the administration of justice.''

Defense lawyer Edward Tolley said in his opening statement that there were significant flaws in the government's case, including that no witness would testify to having seen Moody mail Bomb packages.

The trial was moved after all federal judges in the 11th Circuit - Alabama, Georgia and Florida - disqualified themselves and the defense argued Moody couldn't get a fair trial in the South.

The trial is being conducted under tight security - newly installed metal detectors at courthouse entrances and a bolstered U.S. marshals staff including sharpshooters on the courthouse roof. No threats have been received.

Moody was diagnosed in 1967 with psychiatric problems, Tolley confirmed before the trial began. Tolley also said before the trial that he urged Moody to plead insanity, but Moody wouldn't.

''He sees insanity as an admission of guilt,'' the lawyer says.

Moody, a literary agent, became a suspect in January 1990 after investigators noticed similarities between the mail bombs and a Bomb he was convicted of possessing in 1972. The failure to get that conviction overturned is what led to his frustration and mail-Bomb attacks, Shapiro said.

Investigators were led to a Chamblee, Ga., house where Moody stored belongings, and found what they call a prototype of the 1989 bombs.

Eventually, agents wiretapped Moody's home and cars. According to court documents, the wiretapping revealed Moody whispering to himself, ''Now you've killed two people. Now you can't pull another bombing.''

Before Moody's indictment, the investigation focused on Enterprise, Ala., junk dealer Wayne O'Ferrell after the typing on threatening letters reportedly matched a typewriter owned by O'Ferrell.

Under news media scrutiny, the FBI interviewed O'Ferrell, searched a lake on his property and confiscated numerous items from his warehouse. He has since been cleared.


GRAPHIC: PHOTOS; b/w, AP (2); PHOTOS; b/w, WUSA-TV (2)
CUTLINE: ON TRIAL: Walter Leroy Moody Jr. arrives at court Tuesday in St. Paul, Minn., where he's standing trial for two mail-Bomb deaths. SCENE OF ONE CRIME CUTLINE: POLICE INVESTIGATE: Police search for clues at Judge Robert Vance's Mountain Brook, Ala., home. THE VICTIMS CUTLINE: VANCE: Alabama judge killed at home Dec. 16, 1989. CUTLINE: ROBINSON: Georgia lawyer killed Dec. 18, 1989, at work.