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

Chip Brownlee | The Trace

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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.”

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.

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“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.

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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.

 

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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Economy

Alabama unemployment rate drops more than 2 points to 5.6 percent

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased to 5.6 percent in August, down from 7.9 percent in July, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. 

The figure represents 127,186 unemployed people, compared to 176,556 in July. It compares to an August 2019 rate of 2.8 percent, or 62,149 unemployed people.

“August showed a larger drop in the unemployment rate than we’ve seen for a few months,” said Alabama Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington. “We are continuing to see our initial claims drop, staying under 10,000 for the past several weeks. We regained another 22,200 jobs this month but are still down more than 86,000 from this time last year.”

Washington said that the number of people who are working or actively looking for work is at its highest level ever, which he described as a sign that people are confident that there are jobs to be found. 

Gov. Kay Ivey said the numbers are good news for Alabama. 

“We have worked extremely hard to open Alabama’s businesses safely, and to put our hard-working families back to work,” Ivey said in a statement. “We know that challenges remain, and we will endeavor to meet them so that we can get back to our previous, pre-pandemic record-setting employment numbers.”

All the state’s counties and metro areas experienced a decrease in unemployment rates from July to August. The most gains were seen in the government sector, the professional and business services sector and the trade, transportation and utilities sector.

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Counties with the lowest unemployment rates were:

  • Clay County – 3.4 percent
  • Randolph, Franklin, Marshall, Cullman, Cleburne and Cherokee Counties – 3.6 percent
  • Blount County – 3.7 percent

Counties with the highest unemployment rates were:

  • Wilcox County – 14.8 percent
  • Lowndes County – 13.8 percent
  • Greene County – 10.9 percent

Major cities with the lowest unemployment rates are:

  • Vestavia Hills – 3 percent
  • Homewood  – 3.2 percent
  • Madison – 3.3 percent

Major cities with the highest unemployment rates are:

  • Prichard – 15.4 percent
  • Selma – 12.9 percent
  • Bessemer – 10.7 percent

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Corruption

Former State Sen. David Burkette pleads guilty, avoids jail

Josh Moon

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Former Alabama Sen. David Burkette

Former State Sen. David Burkette will avoid jail time and be sentenced to a 30-day suspended sentence as part of a plea deal reached on Monday. 

Burkette, who pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Fair Campaign Practices Act, will also have to pay a $3,000 fine and serve 12 months of probation as part of the deal. He was sentenced in Montgomery Circuit Court on Monday after being charged two weeks ago with failing to deposit more than $3,600 in contributions into campaign accounts — a misdemeanor.

He also resigned his seat in the Alabama Senate as part of the plea deal. 

“I’m just happy to still be here,” Burkette told the court following his sentencing, according to multiple media reports. 

The former senator suffered a stroke in 2018 and has been confined to a wheelchair since. His current health status played a role in his sentence considerations. 

The charges against Burkette stem from a series of complaints filed against him with the Alabama Ethics Commission — all of them related to various issues during his time on the Montgomery City Council. The charge for which he pleaded guilty occurred in 2015.

The Ethics Commission referred numerous charges to the Alabama attorney general’s office, according to sources familiar with the investigation of Burkette, but the attorney general’s office elected to charge Burkette with only the misdemeanor as part of the deal that saw him resign. 

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“Candidates for public office at the state, county and municipal levels must comply with the State’s Fair Campaign Practices Act,” said Attorney General Steve Marshall. “Personally profiting from campaign funds erodes public confidence in the system and will not be tolerated.”

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National

Governor surveys damage from Hurricane Sally

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey held press conferences in Gulf Shores and Dauphin Island after touring the storm damaged Alabama Gulf Coast, which was battered by Hurricane Sally last week.

Three Alabama counties have been approved for individual and public assistance from FEMA. Baldwin, Mobile and Escambia counties were approved for both IA and PA.

“When I was on the coast Friday, it was clear that there has been significant damage, and people are in need of relief,” Ivey said in a statement. “My Office has been working on putting in the request for individual and public assistance to help bring the needed aid, and I appreciate FEMA for quickly delivering to the people of Alabama. Being approved for individual and public assistance is an important step in the recovery process. Coastal Alabama, we are with you the whole way!”

Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of the damage from Hurricane Sally on the gulf coast Friday September 18, 2020. (Governor’s Office/Hal Yeager)

FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne and Sen. Doug Jones also toured the damaged areas.

“I appreciate FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor for quickly getting down to Alabama to check out the damage from #Sally,” Byrne said. ”President Trump has already approved Alabama’s request for Public Assistance and Individual Assistance, so I encourage everyone to register for help from FEMA online at DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling the registration phone number at 1-800-621-3362. Residents of Baldwin, Escambia, and Mobile counties are currently eligible.”

“President Trump and his team have been outstanding to work with in making sure Alabama gets the help we need and deserve,” Byrne continued.

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Ivey toured the area by helicopter to survey the damage.

Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of the damage from Hurricane Sally on the gulf coast Friday September 18, 2020. (Governor’s Office/Hal Yeager)

 

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“I’m sure it could be worse, but from what I’ve seen this morning in the flyover it is really, really bad,” Ivey said.

Over 200,000 people lost electric power due to Hurricane Sally. Alabama Power said Sunday that more than 99 percent of those people have had their power restored.

“Our electric companies are making progress every hour to restore power,” Byrne said. “A lot more work remains, but know that crews are working hard to get all the power back online. Hurricane Sally caused major damage to our electric infrastructure, and I appreciate all those working to get our lights turned back on.”


Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of the damage from Hurricane Sally on the gulf coast Friday September 18, 2020. (Governor’s Office/Hal Yeager)

Alabama Power said that it may take into early this week to restore power to some portions of downtown Mobile, Bayou La Batre and Dauphin Island.

“With the Major Disaster Declaration, individuals may apply for disaster aid from FEMA,” Byrne explained.

You can apply online at disasterassistance.gov or by calling the registration phone number at 1-800-621-3362 (TTY: 800-462-7585).

Even though electric power has been restored, many homes have been severely damaged. Some are a total loss. Most homeowners are still waiting on insurance adjusters to complete their work. There was a lot of roof damage, not just in Gulf Shores, Dauphin Island, Fort Morgan and Orange Beach, but also in Foley, Robertsdale, Loxley, Bayou La Batre, Bay Minette and beyond — both from the winds and from the trees that fell.

Some homes near the coast were impacted by the storm surge, but many more well into Baldwin County as well as in Pensacola, Florida, were impacted by flooding. Many people are still in need of supplies for the cleanup as well as daily essentials.

“There are a number of food, water and supply distribution sites across Baldwin County,” Byrne said. “According to Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency, these locations have MREs, tarps, bottled water, ice, and other supplies.”

  • Baldwin County Coliseum (Robertsdale)
    19477 Fairground Road Robertsdale, AL
  • Seminole Fire Department
    32268 Highway 90 Seminole, AL
  • Lillian Community Club
    34148 Widell Avenue; Lillian, AL
  • Lana Park (Fairhope)
    523 Volanta Avenue; Fairhope, AL
  • Foley Soccer Complex
    18507 US Highway 98; Foley, AL
  • Orange Beach Community Center
    27235 Canal Road; Orange Beach, AL
  • Gulf Shores SportsPlex
    19025 Oak Road W; Gulf Shores, AL

On Saturday, literally hundreds of cars lined up to pick up supplies from the Robertstale Church of God in Robertsdale.

Hurricane Sally made landfall near Gulf Shores before dawn on Wednesday as a category two storm. Forecasters on Saturday had expected the storm to impact Louisiana but the hurricane turned to the northeast and made landfall in Alabama instead, gaining strength before coming ashore.

“No one expected this storm to be that strong,” Ivey said.

Ivey said most of the piers have been destroyed. Alabama’s State Fishing Pier had just finished a $2.5 million renovation. Now a large portion of the pier is missing. Most of the Gulf State Park campground went underwater. A few campers actually weathered the hurricane in their campers.

Debris removal is ongoing.

The Mobile County Commission announced that it will manage Hurricane Sally debris removal from all areas of Mobile County, located outside the 10 municipalities, except for the Town of Dauphin Island. Dauphin Island will be the only municipality to receive hurricane debris removal managed by the county.

To ensure pick-up removal, residents are asked to adhere to the following guidelines: Only Hurricane Sally-related vegetative and construction and demolition (C&D) debris will be collected. That excludes removal of normal household trash, appliances, electronics and household hazardous waste. Debris must be placed curbside or in right-of-way areas that do not block roadways or storm drains. Do not place material in drainage ditches. Vegetative debris should be piled separately from C&D debris material. Vegetative debris includes tree branches, limbs and non-bagged leaves. C&D debris includes building materials, fencing and bagged materials.

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Corruption

Mike Hubbard’s attorney asks court to reconsider prison sentence

Eddie Burkhalter

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Mike Hubbard reported to the Lee County Jail on Sept. 11, 2020. (VIA LEE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE)

One week after he began serving his prison sentence, the attorney for former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard has asked the court to reconsider his four-year sentence.

Hubbard, 57, began serving his sentence on Sept. 11 after being free on an appeals bond for four years. He was ultimately convicted on six felony charges of using his office for personal gain.

“Mike Hubbard is not a danger to society, nor a threat to the public and a revised sentence will better serve the State’s interest in rehabilitation and the ends of justice,” Hubbard’s Birmingham attorney, David McKnight, wrote to the Lee County Circuit Court on Friday.

Hubbard had originally been convicted by a Lee County jury on 12 ethics violations, and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upheld 11 of those convictions, but the Alabama Supreme Court later reversed five of those convictions and upheld six.

McKnight, in his motion to the court, argues that due process compels the court to reconsider Hubbard’s sentence, and that his removal from office, loss of the right to vote and “divestment of business interests” have already punished the former House speaker.

The state’s attorney general at the time of his conviction determined that Hubbard had bilked Alabama out of more than $2 million.

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