Alabama Executes Walter Moody, Oldest Person Put to Death in Modern History
By Kent Faulk
Alabama on Thursday night executed 83-year-old Walter Leroy Moody for the 1989 pipe bombing death of a federal judge. He became the oldest inmate executed in the United States since the return of executions in the 1970s.
The execution was delayed about two hours after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary stay about 15 minutes before the scheduled 6 p.m. execution time.
The Supreme Court gave no explanation in its orders for the delay or why it later lifted the stay.
The execution began at 8:16 p.m. and according to prison officials his time of death was 8:42 p.m.
Moody kept his eyes closed and head still throughout the lethal injection execution and did not respond when asked by the warden whether he wanted to make a last statement.
Other than his chest moving during the early part of the execution and his jaw dropping slightly, only once during the event did he move when a few of his left fingers fluttered.
That happened soon after he didn't respond to a consciousness test. The test involves a corrections officer calling out the inmate's name, brushing his left eye brow, and pinching the left arm. It is administered to make sure the inmate is sedated enough to administer the two drugs used to halt breathing and the heart.
One of Moody's attorneys with the federal public defender's office in Montgomery took issue with the execution even though Moody moved less on the gurney than some previous inmates.
"I have attended two executions. In both, my client moved after the consciousness check. Ron Smith's was more horrific, but both were disturbing, and raise grave concerns about the DOC's (Department of Corrections) process," said attorney Spencer Hahn.
"Further, I'd like to know what they gave him before to knock him out and prevent him from getting to give his last words. There was no dignity in that room. This dishonored the memory of Judge Vance and Mr. Robinson," Hahn said.
Alabama Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said Moody was not given any sedatives prior to the execution.
The execution was carried out with more security than usual because of the high profile nature of Moody's crimes. There were 10 investigators and intelligence agents at the prison, instead of the usual two to four, as the hour of Moody's death neared.
"I approach every execution by giving the condemned, and the issues raised by the underlying case, the careful consideration both deserve. My ultimate desire is to see justice rightly administered," Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement issued after the execution.
"Mr. Moody was convicted of killing Federal Judge Robert Vance and severely injuring Judge Vance's wife with a bomb purposefully created to kill and maim. The crimes committed by Mr. Moody were intentional, well-planned and aimed at inflicting the most possible harm. A jury found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and his conviction has been upheld at every level of the judicial system."
"For our system of government to work properly, the judiciary must be able to operate without undue outside influence," Ivey stated. "By targeting and murdering a respected jurist, Mr. Moody not only committed capital murder, he also sought to interrupt the flow of justice. 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."
Ivey's office early Thursday evening had issued a copy of the letter from her general counsel denying clemency to Moody.
In that letter the general counselor noted Moody's argument, filed in court papers, that prison officials may not be able to successfully find veins for the lethal injection. "As you know, whether venous access can be obtained is impossible to know for sure, even by trained medical personnel, until it is attempted. If their attempt at venous access is unsuccessful, then obviously Mr. Moody's execution by lethal injection would be impossible," he stated.
A brief filed by Hahn had cited the execution attempt of Doyle Lee Hamm on February 22, where officials tried for over two hours to unsuccessfully insert a catheter into Hamm's veins for the execution. That execution was called off just before midnight, and the state has recently settled with the inmate and agreed not to set another execution date for Hamm. The brief states that Moody is likely to experience the same "severe pain" as Hamm.
Dunn said there was no problem in finding a vein for the lethal injection drugs.
Before the execution Moody did not accept his breakfast meal and did not request nor eat a final meal Thursday, said public information specialist for the Alabama Department of Corrections Samantha Banks.
She said Moody did eat two philly cheesesteak sandwiches, one bag of chips, two Dr. Pepper sodas, and one bag of M&M candies with two attorneys and three friends in the death row visitation yard. One of Moody's attorneys said he actually ate the M&Ms, and Moody had a Hershey bar with almonds.
He also made one call to an attorney.
Moody had no special requests and asked that four attorneys view the execution, Banks said. Two attorneys and a paralegal attended.
No one from Judge Vance's family witnessed the execution.
Moody had no visitors and made six calls to attorneys on Wednesday, Banks said.
Also prior to the execution, there was a flurry of requests by Moody's attorneys to bring a halt to the execution and responses from the Alabama Attorney General's Office.
After the execution, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall issued a statement.
"Nearly 30 years ago, 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Robert Vance was brutally slain when a pipe bomb sent to his Birmingham home exploded," Marshall stated. "Walter Leroy Moody was convicted of Judge Vance's murder in both federal and state courts. 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."
In 1991, a federal jury convicted Moody of 71 charges related to the pipe-bomb murders of U.S. 11th Circuit Judge Robert Vance and Georgia civil rights attorney Robert E. Robinson, who also was killed in a pipe-bomb blast two days after the judge. He was sentenced to seven concurrent life sentences and 400 years. The federal trial was conducted in Minnesota.
Moody was placed on death row after a jury convicted him of capital murder at a trial in Alabama five years later for the deadly pipe bomb explosion at Vance's Mountain Brook home that also seriously injured Vance's wife, Helen. The jury recommended 11-1 that the death penalty be imposed and the judge agreed.
Moody has maintained that he did not send the pipe bombs.
Vance's son, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Bob Vance, recently sat down with AL.com to talk about his father and the execution. Victims' families can view executions, but Vance said he won't be there tonight.
An attorney for Moody told AL.com this morning they are waiting on the U.S. Supreme Court to act.
"I am hopeful that the United States Supreme Court will grant certiorari (review) to consider the substantial issues raised in his cert petition," said Spencer Hahn, one of Moody's attorneys, said in an email today to AL.com.
"I urge Governor (Kay) Ivey to respect the wishes of the victim, Judge Vance, and grant the clemency Judge Vance would have," Hahn also stated in the email.
Bob Vance has said that his father was personally against the death penalty but that when he dealt with death penalty cases during the 12 years he was on the federal appeals bench he set those beliefs aside and followed the law.
After the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals denied their appeals, Moody and his attorneys filed requests to the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday night -- and again Thursday morning -- to stay the execution and to review the arguments in Moody's case.
Among Moody's arguments are that the federal government which convicted him first on non-death penalty charges should have him in custody instead of the state.
Justice Department attorneys and the Alabama Attorney General's at that hearing and in written briefs have said that they have had an agreement since the 1990s to allow Moody to serve his sentence in Alabama. Then on Monday the Justice Department filed another brief on behalf of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who at the time of Moody's conviction and death sentence in Alabama was the state's attorney general.
In the DOJ brief it states that Sessions has agreed to waive the federal government's right to exclusive custody of Moody "and consents to his custody in Alabama for purposes of carrying out the capital sentence imposed on Moody in Alabama."
Moody's lawyers In today's request to the U.S. Supreme Court argued Sessions cannot do that. "The Attorney General of the United States does not have the authority to interrupt a federal sentence which has commenced and, under Bond, Chadha, and Marbury (a previous case), Mr. Moody may seek to invalidate the attempt," according to Thursday's filing by Moody's attorneys.
Moody also asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday night for another appeals court -- other than the 11th Circuit -hear his case, to be assigned to hear his case. He cited jurisdictional issues with several judges' recusal in 2014.
He argues that a three-member panel of the 11th Circuit, which didn't have to recuse, had decided his appeals. But he couldn't get a hearing before the full 11th Circuit because the other judges had recused.
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