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Federal Criminal Defense Blog Federal Criminal Defense and Civil Litigation in Georgia and Beyond

Requests for Recusal by Murderer of Eleventh Circuit Judge and Civil Rights Attorney Denied

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In 1989, Walter Leroy Moody, Jr., sent mail bombs to Judge Robert Vance of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit; Savannah, Georgia, civil rights attorney Robert Robinson; the Eleventh Circuit headquarters and the Jacksonville, Florida office of the NAACP, as stated in an item from Courthouse News Service. Moody was angered over having lost an appeal of his 1972 conviction for possessing an unregistered destructive device. Judge Vance, who had been appointed to the Court in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter while the Court was in the former Fifth Circuit, was killed instantly when he opened the package at his home in Mountain Brook, Alabama. Robinson was also killed. The bombs sent to the Court and the NAACP offices were not opened after news of the other bombs was received.

Moody was tried for the murders and was convicted on 71 counts and sentenced to seven life sentences. All Federal judges within the Eleventh Circuit and the Northern District of Georgia recused themselves from Moody’s case and the trial was presided over by Judge Edward Devitt from the District of Minnesota. After Moody appealed, his convictions and sentence were upheld by a special panel of Judges from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The State of Alabama charged Moody with the murder of Judge Vance, and Moody was convicted and sentenced to death in 1997. Moody was unsuccessful on appeal, and filed for Federal habeas corpus relief. Judge Scott Coogler of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama refused to recuse himself, and Moody petitioned the Eleventh Circuit to order his recusal, and moved for all Eleventh Circuit judges to recuse themselves and transfer his petition to another Circuit.

This past week, a panel of the Eleventh Circuit composed of judges–all appointed to the Court after the murder of Judge Vance–denied Moody’s requests for recusal. The panel held that Judge Coogler, who was appointed as a District Court judge in 2003, need not recuse himself from Moody’s case.

“The law should be the point at which savagery ended because civilization stood in its path.” — Ariana Franklin