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Alabama executes 83-year-old Walter Moody for 1989 murder of federal judge

Chip Brownlee

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Walter Moody, 83, was executed Thursday at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama. (via Alabama Department of Corrections)

The State of Alabama executed an 83-year-old man Thursday evening for a 1989 bombing that claimed the life of a federal appeals judge in Alabama.

Alabama put Walter Moody to death by lethal injection at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, making him the oldest death-row inmate put to death in modern American history.

Moody was convicted in 1991 after an exhaustive federal investigation found that Moody delivered a package containing a homemade pipebomb to Federal Judge Robert Smith Vance’s home in Mountain Brook. That bomb exploded, instantly killing Vance and seriously injuring his wife.

“For our system of government to work properly, the judiciary must be able to operate without undue outside influence. By targeting and murdering a respected jurist, Mr. Moody not only committed capital murder, he also sought to interrupt the flow of justice,” said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey Thursday in a statement, after she allowed Moody’s execution to continue despite some calls for clemency in his case because of his advanced age.

The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily delayed his execution with a stay Thursday night to consider last-minute appeals in which Moody’s attorneys argued that the lethal injection would be difficult because of his age and his “spider veins.”

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They also said that Vance — who had been chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party before being nominated by President Jimmy Carter to the federal bench — had been personally opposed to the death penalty.

They eventually allowed the execution to continue, and so did Ivey.

“After considering the facts of his horrendous and intentional crime, I have allowed Mr. Moody’s sentence to be carried out in accordance with the laws of this state and in the interest of ensuring justice for the victim and his family,” the governor said.

A complicated federal trial that involved the recusal of all circuit and district judges in the United States 11th Circuit, where Vance was on the bench, led to Moody being convicted on all counts. He was also found to be responsible for the murder of a black civil rights attorney, Robert E. Robinson, based in Savannah, Georgia, who was killed in a separate explosion.

Years earlier, in 1972, Moody had been convicted of possessing a pipebomb that exploded and seriously injured his wife in their kitchen. The earlier case was a major factor in Moody’s 1991 conviction. Investigators said Moody was angry with the federal judiciary after they refused to vacate his sentence.

Vance was not on the panel that made the decision, but Moody seemed to target him anyway. He was also found to have sent four bombs in total:  one to Vance, one to Robinson, and two more that were found and defused before exploding at the 11th Circuit’s headquarters in Atlanta and at the Jacksonville, Georgia, office of the NAACP.

Investigators believed that Moody sent the additional bombs to the NAACP and Robinson because he hoped to throw investigators off his trail by adding a racial element to the crime.

He was later convicted on state charges for Vance’s murder and was sentenced to death by electrocution on Feb. 10, 1997.

The Department of Corrections said Thursday in a statement that Moody’s execution began at 8:17 p.m., and he was pronounced dead at 8:42 p.m. He gave no final statement.

“Walter Leroy Moody was convicted of Judge Vance’s murder in both federal and state courts,” said Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. “Even though he was also convicted of a similar pipe bomb death of a Georgia attorney, Moody has spent the better part of three decades trying to avoid justice. Tonight, Mr. Moody’s appeals finally came to a rightful end. Justice has been served.”

Vance’s son, Bob Vance, is now a Jefferson County circuit judge in the running for the State Supreme Court. Judge Bob Vance did not attend the execution.

Moody’s execution drew national attention because of his age. Before Moody’s execution, the oldest death-row inmate to face the death penalty since it was reinstated by the Supreme Court in the late 1970s was John Nixon, who was 77 when he was executed in 2005.

As states are carrying out fewer executions because of court litigation and the scarcity of some lethal injection drugs, the age of many death row inmates is rising. Georgia executed a 67-year-old earlier this year, and Alabama executed 75-year-old Thomas Arthur last year who had escaped the death penalty seven times before.

Death Row inmate Thomas Arthur executed after seven previous attempts

The average age on Alabama’s death row is low, sitting now at 32 years old, though there are three inmates on Alabama’s death row aged 68 or older, according to ADOC records, and many more who are nearing that age.

The oldest now is Charlie Washington, 70, who was sentenced in 2004 to death row for murder in the course of a robbery or burglary.

More than 180 people, the vast majority of which are men, remain on death row.

Another case involving an elderly death-row inmate will make its way to the Supreme Court after the justices this year agreed to hear the case of Vernon Madison, 67, who was convicted of killing a Mobile, Alabama, police officer in 1985.

His attorneys say he has no memory of the crime after suffering multiple strokes; therefore, capital punishment can’t serve its purpose in his case.

 

Governor

Ivey: Pelham to resign, Bonner to take over as chief of staff

Josh Moon

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Chief of Staff Steve Pelham is officially resigning from Gov. Kay Ivey’s office, a release from the governor’s office said Tuesday morning. Former congressman Jo Bonner will take Pelham’s spot.

Pelham’s resignation was first reported by APR earlier on Tuesday.

“Steve has been a close friend and a trusted confidant for a number of years and has provided our office with outstanding leadership,” Governor Ivey said.  “When we made the transition to the Governor’s Office in 2017, Steve was responsible for leading the effort to make certain the Ivey Administration was up and running on day one.  He has maintained that level of commitment to our organization, structure and focus to details throughout our first term together.”

Bonner joined Ivey’s staff in December as an advisor — a move that seemed to be in preparation for Pelham’s eventual departure.

“Jo brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to our administration,” Ivey said, “and I know we aren’t going to miss a step as my cabinet, staff and I work, every day, to honor the support and confidence the people of Alabama gave us last November.”

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Pelham will become the new Vice President for Economic Development and Chief of Staff to Auburn University President Steven Leath in February.

 

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Sources: Ivey chief of staff set to resign

Josh Moon

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via BCA Today

Steve Pelham, the chief of staff to Gov. Kay Ivey, is planning to resign from that position later this week, multiple sources close to the governor’s office have told APR.

Pelham is expected to take a job in the Auburn University president’s office, working directly for university President Steven Leath.

He will remain with Ivey’s administration for 30 days ensuring a smooth transition.

The move is a dramatic shakeup in Ivey’s office, where Pelham was long considered one of the most influential voices. In fact, at times, people in and around the governor’s office referred to Pelham as the “acting governor,” and he was leaned on heavily by Ivey to make day-to-day decisions.

Her trust in Pelham isn’t hard to understand.

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He took over as her chief of staff when she took office as the state’s lieutenant governor in 2011. He never left her side, helping her navigate the tricky transition to governor when Robert Bentley resigned in 2017.

Pelham’s workload increased over the last year, as Ivey — already known for her tendency to work outside of the office — missed even more days while campaigning. For much of the year, Pelham was the de facto governor of the state.

It’s unclear at this point who would replace Pelham — if Ivey will look to promote from within the office or look elsewhere, perhaps seeking a strong voice to help her better communicate with lawmakers as they ready for fights over a gas tax increase and the building of new state prisons.

 

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Sheriff resigns sentencing commission in protest

Bill Britt

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Choctaw County Sheriff Scott Lolley submitted a letter of resignation to the Alabama Sentencing Commission on Jan. 7 citing his frustration over issues he says the commission board could resolve.

Specifically, Sheriff Lolley is “concerned and frustrated” that, “The vast majority of drug cases are being placed on probation, sentenced to drug courts, or the sentences are suspended for drug rehabilitation.”

Lolley, in his resignation letter addressed to Executive Director of the Alabama Sheriff’s Association Bobby Timmons, says the citizens of Choctaw County are, “being victimized and re-victimized constantly by the same drug suspects.”

He complained that, “It’s virtually impossible to sentence someone on drug charges to the Alabama Department of Corrections.” For this Lolley blames, at least in part, the sentencing guidelines that have reduced the state correctional facilities’ in-house population while leaving the burden of rearresting and housing repeat offenders to the county sheriff.

The Alabama Sentencing Commission Mission Statement reads, “The Alabama Sentencing Commission shall work to establish and maintain an effective, fair, and efficient sentencing system for Alabama that enhances public safety, provides truth-in-sentencing, avoids unwarranted disparity, retains meaningful judicial discretion, recognizes the most efficient and effective use of correctional resources, and provides a meaningful array of sentencing options.”

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Sentencing reforms have in part led to a reduction in the overall prison population. According to the latest report on file issued by ADOC in Sept. 2018, its in-house population was 20,087 inmates. ALDOC defines in-house population as, “an inmate where ADOC maintains custody of an inmate to a period of incarceration. ADOC In-House Population inmates are housed within correctional facilities owned and operated by ADOC; this includes transient inmates between correctional facilities.”

One of the goals of the sentencing commission, ADOC, as well as the state Legislature, is to reduce prison overcrowding.

Alabama’s prisons rank as some of the worst in the nation, and anyone who has toured even the best facilities will find they are old, dilapidated and nearly uninhabitable.

Legislation enacted by the Republican supermajority has dramatically reduced prison overcrowding from 198 percent capacity in 2013, to 153 percent in 2018, according to ADOC.

September ADOC statistics show the total number of in-house beds is 22,309, and it also shows a total in-house population of 20,087, which means 2,222 beds are unoccupied.

The same September ADOC report says ADOC’s in-house designed capacity is 13,318. Footnote two in the report says the 13,318 capacity is based on “Original architecural (sic) design plus renovations.”

However, ADOC personnel and those who have worked at ADOC say this statement is misleading because In-House Designed capacity means inmate capacity according to the facility’s original design and does not take into consideration additional building or other space added to existing structures in subsequent years.

As a result of Legislative intervention, the number of non-violent offenders in state prisons has been reduced dramatically, going from a prison population of 35 percent non-violent to now under 14 percent. An unintended consequence of not locking up non-violent offenders is a very violent population inside the prisons, making it more dangerous for correctional officers.

Could leasing be the answer to new state prisons?

Lolley’s dilemma illustrates that for some counties these reforms are a double-edged sword.

“Law enforcement continues to arrest the problem offenders, but the judicial system continues to place them in alternative sentencing,” writes Lolley. “This system simply does not work.”

He also says, “A chronic drug offender could be arrested anywhere from 2-15 times and never be sent to the Alabama Department of Corrections.” He also claims that sentenced state inmates are being held in the county jail for months before the Alabama Department of Corrections will accept them and that “inmates incarcerated at the Alabama Department of Corrections are receiving parole hearings and release at a ridiculous rate.”

In Nov. 2017, Gov. Kay Ivey floated the idea of leasing built-to-order prisons to reduce overcrowding and to ensure the state prisons can house offenders. There is growing support for Ivey to utilize that option rather than trying to corral lawmakers into supporting a billion dollar bond to build three mega-prisons. Ivey made solving the state’s prison problems a prominent part of her inaugural address on Monday.

Lolley was first elected Choctaw County Sheriff in 2014; he was reelected in 2018 to a second term.

 

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Opinion | Why do Alabama governors insist on taking the unpopular path?

Josh Moon

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We’re doing it again.

The same thing. We’re doing the same thing again, and hoping for a different outcome. Which I believe is the definition of insanity. And that might as well be our state motto at this point.

Alabama: The Insane State.

The state where the people continue to elect people who promise to do the same things as the last people who we hated, and who will eventually totally renege on those promises and try to do the opposite.

Case in point: Kay Ivey.

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At her inauguration on Monday, Ivey was all smiles and upbeat rhetoric. She talked of steadying the ship and putting Alabamians back to work. And she was governor while those things happened, so the rules say she gets credit, even if it’s mighty tough to pinpoint exactly what it is that she did to cause any of those good things.

But Ivey also dropped a few hints about the future.

To no one’s surprise, she discussed a gas tax without ever saying the word “tax,” and she talked about a new prison construction proposal.

Actually, neither of those ideas is “new,” and the proposals Ivey and the Legislature will put forth in the coming months won’t be new either. We’ve been talking about prisons for three years now, if not longer, and the gas tax was kicked around during the last legislative session.

And both will be met with roughly the same amount of disdain by voters this time around.

No matter how badly we might need to renovate our current prisons or build new ones, the average Alabama voter doesn’t want to do that. In fact, those voters have proven to be amazingly willing to let prisoners out of jail, if the alternative is a higher tax bill.

And on the gas tax front, yeah, that’s a big ol’ no.

I’m sorry, but you can’t set up a state income tax system that charges janitors more than CEOs, leaving the state with consistently no money to make necessary repairs to infrastructure, and then ask the working stiffs to pick up the bill for those repairs when things fall completely apart. And make them pay for it by charging them more to get to work every day.  

I don’t care that we just held elections and most lawmakers are safe for another four years. You vote for that sort of a tax on working people, and it’ll hang around your neck for the rest of your political career. What’s left of it.

If you doubt this, ask Robert Bentley.

He tried something similar. Actually, come to think of it, he was a lot like Ivey following his re-election in 2014. Very popular. Had pledged not to raise taxes. Was generally trusted by most people around the state.

And then he hit people with a proposal for a cigarette tax.

His whole world blew up from that point forward.

Because it’s not right. Taxing gas or taxing cigarettes is a coward’s tax.

It’s an admission that you know we don’t have enough revenue but you’re not brave enough to attack the real problem — to raise property taxes or restructure our state income tax.

Or to do what’s popular: Legalize gambling.

Why do Alabama Republicans continue to run from legalized gaming? It makes zero sense, considering the massive edge they hold in statewide voting and the unprecedented popularity of gambling among Republican voters.

Poll after poll shows that conservative voters in Alabama now massively favor legalizing gambling. In one of the more recent polls, more than 60 percent of likely Republican voters were in favor of a vote to legalize full-fledged casinos with sportsbooks.

And yet, Ivey, like the two governors who came before her, will stand on a stage at her inauguration and push for two completely unpopular ideas —— prisons and a gas tax — but never speak of the one subject that’s both popular and could raise enough money to pay for the infrastructure repairs. And the prisons.

So, here we are again. Another governor who thinks she can thumb her nose at the will of the people. Another governor who seems hellbent on ignoring a popular solution. Another fight that will lead to nowhere.

Insanity. That’s what it is.

 

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Alabama executes 83-year-old Walter Moody for 1989 murder of federal judge

by Chip Brownlee Read Time: 4 min
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