A man described as obsessed by hatred and frustration was convicted today of the mail-bomb killing of a federal judge. Jurors recommended the death penalty.
Walter Leroy Moody Jr., 61, was found guilty in state court of murder and assault in an attack on U.S. Appeals Court Judge Robert S. Vance, who died when he opened a package in his kitchen in suburban Mountain Brook. Vance's wife was wounded.
Moody already is serving seven life sentences without parole after being convicted in federal court of murdering Vance and a civil rights lawyer, threatening to kill 17 judges and sending two other bombs that were intercepted.
No immediate sentencing date on the state charges was set. Alabama judges rarely overrule a jury's recommendation.
Prosecutors contended that Moody, who is white, sent mail bombs to Vance, who also was white, and to black civil rights lawyer Robert E. Robinson of Savannah, Ga., out of frustration and hatred over being unable to overturn a 1972 conviction on a charge of possessing a pipe bomb.
Moody had once attended law school in Atlanta, but the felony record prevented him from becoming a lawyer.
"He was obsessed with getting that 1972 conviction overturned," said prosecutor Bob Morrow.
One of the bombs that was intercepted was sent to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, the court on which Vance served.
Morrow said the bomb sent to Robinson was intended to make it appear that a group such as the Ku Klux Klan was behind the judge's murder. In addition, one of the intercepted bombs was sent to the NAACP in Jacksonville, Fla.
The NAACP believed it was a prime target of the bombing campaign, and Benjamin L. Hooks, then the group's executive director, sought assurances from then-President George Bush "that from the presidency down there is a sense of urgency." Bush promised to "bring to justice the bigots."
Both slayings took place in December 1989 and made many people nervous about opening packages during the Christmas season.
Ever since the bombings, all packages sent to the state capitol and judicial buildings are screened, and people must pass through metal detectors to get into trials in state courts and to watch state legislative sessions.
A task force investigated the bombings for 18 months, using agents from federal, state and local agencies.
Moody, a self-styled literary consultant, became a suspect after investigators found similarities between the devices used to kill Robinson and Vance and the pipe bomb that exploded at Moody's home in 1972.
Moody fired his lawyers and presented no defense during the Alabama trial. He showed no reaction when the verdict was read, in stark contrast to the opening of the trial, when he screamed at the judge and got into shouting matches with prosecutors.
The outbursts stopped after jurors laughed at one of his tirades. Moody finished out the trial reading a paperback book. Vance's widow, Helen, said she was grateful for the conviction, and the judge's son, Robert S. Vance Jr., said: "I don't have any philosophical problems with the death penalty. I realize it won't bring my dad back. But I think in this case it was fully deserved."