Civil rights leaders breathed easier with the indictment of a Georgia man in a series of mail bombings that killed a federal judge and an NAACP lawyer and put the South on edge just before Christmas last year.
The indictment, unsealed Wednesday, also accuses Walter Leroy Moody Jr., a 56-year-old self-employed editor, of sending racist, threatening letters.He was to be arraigned in federal court Thursday.
The bombings and threats spread a wave of pre-Christmas terror that had lawyers, judges and civil rights officials contacting authorities when they received unexpected packages.
"We are relieved that federal authorities believe that a suspected perpetrator has been identified, and cautious that no other persons are or may be implicated," said Earl Shinhoster, Southeast director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
He said the bombings "created a climate of uneasy
apprehension for many of us in the civil rights community that will not be easily abated even with the indictments."
Moody, for months a leading suspect in the case, was charged in the slayings of appeals Judge Robert Vance of Mountainbrook, Ala., on Dec. 16, 1989, and civil rights lawyer Robert Robinson of Savannah two days later.
The nail-packed bombs bore marked similarities to one that Moody was convicted of possessing in 1972, federal authorities said. They said all three bombs were constructed by a method not used in any of more than 10,000 bombs they had examined over the years.
The indictment also accuses Moody of sending bombs to the 11th U.S. Circuit courthouse in Atlanta - Vance was a member of the 11th Circuit - and to the NAACP in Jacksonville, Fla. Those two bombs were safely defused.
In addition, Moody was charged with sending dozens of threatening letters to NAACP officials, lawyers, judges and TV stations, and with sending a tear-gas bomb that went off at the NAACP's Atlanta office.
U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh and FBI Director William Sessions, who announced the indictment in Washington, said authorities believe Moody acted alone.
Officials declined to say what his motive might have been, but it has been speculated that racism or revenge against the judicial system prompted the attacks. Moody is white, as was Vance. Robinson, a Savannah city alderman who did legal work for the NAACP, was black.
The letters, some signed "Americans for a Competent Federal Judicial System," said the killings were in retaliation for court decisions on school desegregation and black-on-white crime. They threatened more violence against lawyers, judges and the NAACP.
Six of the charges, including murder of a federal judge, carry up to life in prison.
Moody's attorney, Bruce Harvey, charged that the indictment lacked evidence linking his client to the crimes.