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.”
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.
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.