OIG's Special Report on FBI Laboratory Practices

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Part Three: Analysis of Particular Matters

Section B: The VANPAC Case

I. Introduction

II. Factual Background

In December 1989, four mail bombs were received at different addresses in the southeastern United States. One bomb killed Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Robert Vance in Birmingham, Alabama; another killed attorney Robert Robinson in Savannah, Georgia; the third was discovered before exploding at a federal courthouse in Atlanta, Georgia; and the fourth was discovered before exploding at the Jacksonville, Florida office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The mail bombs had numerous similarities, which included: they were delivered in packages wrapped in brown paper, tied with string, addressed with typed red-and-white labels, and posted with stamps depicting an American flag over Yosemite National Park; they were placed in cardboard boxes that had been painted black in the inside; and each bomb included a steel pipe filled with smokeless powder, finishing nails secured to the outside of the pipe, and a detonator fashioned from a flashbulb filament with distinctive wiring and a ballpoint pen casing. The detonators from the two bombs that did not explode contained a green powder identified as high explosive primer. Three of the bombs also had welded end plates that were joined together by a steel rod through the center of the pipe.

The bombings were followed by a large-scale investigation involving the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and other law enforcement agencies. The unexploded devices found in Atlanta and Jacksonville were sent to the FBI Laboratory for analysis in December 1989, as was debris from the mail bombs from Savannah and Birmingham. J. Thomas Thurman of the EU was assigned as the principal examiner.

Thurman enlisted various auxiliary examiners in other units of the Laboratory to examine evidence. The other examiners included Roger Martz, who was then chief of the CTU. In January 1990, Martz determined that each mail bomb contained Red Dot double base smokeless powder. He also determined that a green powder found inside the detonators of the two unexploded mail bombs was a small arms primer manufactured by CCI Industries.

Walter LeRoy Moody, Jr. was identified as a suspect after ATF forensic chemist Lloyd Erwin recalled that Moody had been convicted in a 1972 case involving a pipe bomb with a design similar to that of the 1989 bombs. In February 1990, federal investigators searched a storage area rented by Moody in Chamblee, Georgia, and found a device constructed from a metal pipe that was similar in some respects to the construction of the mail bombs. Several searches of Moody's house, however, failed to reveal evidence of Red Dot smokeless powder or the type of CCI primer identified by Martz in the explosive devices.

In April 1990, a witness named Paul Sartain told ATF agents that while he was working at the AShootin' Iron gun store in December 1989, he had sold someone a four pound can of Red Dot smokeless powder and a quantity of CCI primers. Sartain later identified Moody as the person who had purchased these items.

In July 1990, Moody was indicted on charges that he had suborned perjury by a witness in connection with a 1988 hearing on a coram nobis petition he had filed related to his 1972 conviction. A jury convicted Moody of these charges after a trial in Brunswick, Georgia, in December 1990.

In November 1990, Moody was charged with various federal crimes related to the bombings. Venue for trial was transferred to St. Paul, Minnesota and the case was assigned to Senior Judge Edward J. Devitt. After a trial in June 1991, a jury convicted Moody on 71 separate counts. The judge sentenced Moody to seven life terms plus four hundred years.

During the trial, Lloyd Erwin, Frank Lee, and Terry Byer of the ATF testified about the construction of the four mail bombs, the 1972 bomb, and the Chamblee device. They opined that all had been made by the same person. Moody's former wife Susan McBride Moody testified that she had purchased various items at Moody's direction. The items she purchased were consistent with components used in the mail bombs. A former cellmate of Moody's, Ted Banks, testified that at Moody's request he had welded end plates onto three metal pipes that were similar to those used in three of the bombs. Paul Sartain testified that in December 1989, he had sold Moody a four-pound keg of Red Dot smokeless powder and 4,000 CCI small pistol primers.

During the third week of trial, the government presented testimony by Thurman and Martz from the FBI's Laboratory Division. Thurman testified about the construction of the mail bombs and opined that they had been made by the same person who made the 1972 bomb. Martz testified that the mail bombs contained Red Dot double base smokeless powder and that he identified CCI small arms primer in detonators from the two unexploded devices.

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