Alabama had scheduled the execution of Walter Moody Jr for yesterday. If the state carried out the execution, Moody will have been the oldest inmate killed in the modern history of the US, according to the Death Penalty Information Centre (DPIC), a group that tracks capital punishment.
Though reports listed Moody’s age as both 82 and 83, Bob Horton, the Alabama Department of Corrections public information officer, confirmed that Moody’s age is 83 on Wednesday.
Moody was convicted in 1991 of 71 charges related to the 1989 pipe-bomb deaths of federal appeals judge Robert Vance and civil rights lawyer Robert Robinson. Moody has maintained his innocence.
The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) declined to review Moody’s case in January. An appeals court further denied relief for Moody on Wednesday.
Moody was expected to appeal to SCOTUS again on Thursday.
Executions were blocked by SCOTUS in 1972, but the court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 after placing “stricter standards for the constitutionality of capital punishment”, Robert Dunham, the DPIC’s director, said. “Nobody aged 80 or older has been executed since executions resumed in the 1970s,” which is considered the modern era of capital punishment in the US, Dunham said.
These stricter standards included guaranteeing deaths that were not “cruel and unusual,” as prohibited in the US Constitution, as well as a mandating that a jury decide to impose the death penalty, among other measures.
Though the number of executions is declining in the US, Moody’s age is indicative of the aging population of the roughly 2 800 people on death row, the DPIC director continued.
“Nine people in their 70s” have been executed in the US since capital punishment was reinstated, Dunham said, and all of them died in the 21st century.
“When we look at people who have been executed before 2000 in the modern era, no one in their 70s or 80s” has been executed, he said.
The previous oldest person to be executed was John Nixon (77) who died in Mississippi in 2006.
Though many believe the lengthy appeals process is to blame for the ageing population, Dunham explained that the “primary reason” for the advancing age of death row inmates is that the convicted “typically … had their convictions or death sentences overturned several times and have been resentenced.”
It can take up to 20 years for a case to be overturned. The case could take another 15 years after that to work its way through the system, Dunham said.
Often, appeals are filed that claim death row inmates were not properly represented or evidence was not presented in previous trials — which can cause a new trial — or are suffering from mental illness or impairment, which bars them from execution, if proven.
Arkansas scheduled eight executions in 11 days in 2017, an unprecedented even in US history. Four of the eight men had their executions stayed due to appeals such as those listed above.
According to local media reports, prosecutors originally thought the killings of Vance and Robinson, who was African American, were racially motivated.
They later alleged that Moody was angry at the court system over a 1972 conviction for another bombing incident that injured his then-wife.
He allegedly hoped the suspicion of racist motivations in the bombings would confuse investigators.
Bob Vance, son of the assassinated judge who is also a judge himself, was quoted in local media as saying there “wasn’t any real good reason” for Moody’s targeting of his father. — AP