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Georgia Man's Mail Bomb Trial Opens : Crime: The case is moved to Minnesota because of concerns about publicity. A federal judge and civil rights lawyer were killed by the devices.

June 05, 1991|ERIC HARRISON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A thousand miles from the Deep South region where a string of pipe bombings spread terror and death in 1989, a Georgia man went on trial Tuesday, accused of making and mailing the devices that killed a federal judge and a civil rights attorney.

In his opening statement in federal court, U.S. Atty. Howard Shapiro contended that Walter Leroy Moody Jr., 57, of Rex, Ga., committed the murders primarily in retaliation against the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which refused to clear him of a 1972 pipe bomb conviction.

According to a 72-count indictment, Moody went on a bombing spree and sent letters to 17 judges who sat on the appellate court, threatening to assassinate them. The indictment also contends that he threatened to kill NAACP officials and sent letters to television news stations throughout the South in which he threatened to wage chemical warfare in densely populated cities.

The trial, which is expected to last possibly three weeks, was moved to St. Paul because the case had received so much publicity in the Southeast that defense attorneys contended Moody could not get a fair trial. In addition, the judges of the Northern District of the U.S. 11th Circuit voluntarily removed themselves from presiding in the case because they had been objects of threats allegedly sent by the defendant.

Prosecutors allege that Moody, a self-employed literary consultant, concocted a fictitious organization, Americans for a Competent Federal Judicial System, and feigned a purely racial motive for the attacks in an attempt to throw off investigators.

In reality, Shapiro said, Moody believed black people received preferential treatment from the legal system, but his primary motivation had been retaliation for the court's failure to overturn his 1972 conviction, the prosecutor said.

Shapiro said Moody was obsessed with overturning the conviction because he wanted to become a lawyer and knew that, unless the conviction was reversed, he would never be admitted to the Georgia bar.

Edward Tolley, Moody's defense attorney, contended that Moody "had never heard" of Robert E. Robinson, the Savannah, Ga., civil rights lawyer and alderman who was killed, and had no motive for harming Judge Robert S. Vance of Mountain Brook, Ala.

Both men were killed when pipe bombs that had been mailed to their homes exploded. Additional pipe bombs were mailed to the court of appeals in Atlanta and to the Jacksonville, Fla., NAACP.

The defense attorney portrayed Moody as a contentious and unlikable "genius" whose promising life was ruined by that 1972 conviction, which resulted from an accidental pipe bomb explosion in his home that injured his first wife. Moody was convicted of illegally possessing the bomb and sentenced to five years in prison.

Tolley conceded that Moody was so obsessed with erasing the conviction that he persuaded a witness to lie in an earlier court hearing and may also have made racist statements in the past, but he told the jury, which includes one black woman, "You don't have to like Walter Leroy Moody in order to give him a fair trial."

Among prosecution witnesses expected to testify against Moody is his former wife, Susan McBride.

Tolley contended that McBride will testify against Moody in order to avoid being prosecuted herself.

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