‘In the wrong place at the wrong time’

Slain judge had been the vic­tim of threats in 2009, but of­fi­cials doubt a link to shoot­ings.

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY JERRY MARKON markonj@wash­post.com Staff re­porter Ed O’Keefe and staff re­searcher Julie Tate con­trib­uted to this story.

John M. Roll, the chief fed­eral judge in Ari­zona, has been the sub­ject of hun­dreds of threats, some so se­ri­ous he was for a time in 2009 placed un­der 24-hour pro­tec­tion. But it was an ac­ci­dent of bad tim­ing— and a con­nec­tion to a con­gress­woman — that led to his fa­tal shoot­ing Satur­day at a po­lit­i­cal event in Tuc­son.

Roll was leav­ing a su­per­mar­ket nearby when when he spot­ted Rep. Gabrielle Gif­fords (D-Ariz.) and “stopped by to say hi,” ac­cord­ing to a spokes­woman for Gif­fords. The two had worked to­gether on border se­cu­rity is­sues.

A short time later, a gun­man opened fire. Gif­fords, the ap­par­ent tar­get, was wounded.

Roll was among six killed, mak­ing him the first fed­eral judge killed since U.S. ap­peals court Judge Robert S. Vance was slain by a pipe bomb at his Birm­ing­ham, Ala., home in 1989.

“He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said a law en­force­ment of­fi­cial who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was still un­fold­ing.

In a state­ment, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Jus­tice John G. Roberts Jr. praised Roll as “a wise ju­rist who self­lessly served Ari­zona and the nation” and said his death “is a somber re­minder of the im­por­tance of the rule of law and the sac­ri­fices of those who work to se­cure it.’’

Roll was ap­pointed to the fed­eral bench by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush in 1991 and had been chief judge since 2006. A Penn­syl­va­nia na­tive, he served as an Ari­zona state ap­peals court judge and as­sis­tant U.S. at­tor­ney be­fore join­ing the fed­eral bench.

Al­though only four fed­eral judges have been killed in mod­ern his­tory, threats to judges and pros­e­cu­tors have soared in re­cent years.

Roll was the vic­tim of hun­dreds of threats in Fe­bru­ary 2009 af­ter he al­lowed a law­suit filed by il­le­gal im­mi­grants against a rancher to go for­ward. “ They cursed him out, threat­ened to kill his fam­ily, said they’d come and take care of him. They re­ally wanted him dead,” a law en­force­ment of­fi­cial told The Washington Post in May 2009.

U.S. mar­shals put Roll un­der 24-hour pro­tec­tion for about a month. They guarded his home in a se­cluded area just out­side Tuc­son, screen­ing his mail and es­cort­ing him to court, to the gym and to the Catholic Mass he at­tended daily.

Roll told The Post in May 2009 that “any judge who goes through this knows it’s a stress­ful sit­u­a­tion” and that he and his fam­ily were grate­ful for the pro­tec­tion.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors said they do not think that Roll’s death was re­lated to the 2009 threats but em­pha­sized that they are con­duct­ing a thor­ough probe that will look into all pos­si­ble mo­tives — and will also ex­am­ine any re­cent threats against the judge.

“We will de­ter­mine . . . what brought the judge to the event, why he was at the gro­cery store this morn­ing,’’ said Michael Prout, as­sis­tant di­rec­tor for ju­di­cial se­cu­rity for the U.S. Mar­shals Ser­vice.

Prout, whose agency pro­tects fed­eral judges and pros­e­cu­tors, said Roll was “a friend and fan of the Mar­shals.’’

Col­leagues and of­fi­cials de­scribed Roll as a thought­ful and quiet man, an avid church­goer and lap swim­mer who loved pub­lic ser­vice and never com­plained about the threats against his life.

“We are bro­ken­hearted,’’ said Re­becca White Berch, chief jus­tice of the Ari­zona Supreme Court, who knew Roll well. “He was one of the nicest, most gen­tle and fair peo­ple you can imag­ine. This is just dev­as­tat­ing to ev­ery­one.’’

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who rec­om­mended Roll for the fed­eral bench, said the judge “will be missed very much. ... Judge Roll ded­i­cated his life to pub­lic ser­vice and was ad­mired by many for his in­tegrity, kind­ness and love for the law.’’

Fed­eral court per­son­nel were the tar­gets of 1,278 threats in fis­cal 2008, more than dou­ble the num­ber in 2003, ac­cord­ing to a 2009 Jus­tice Depart­ment in­spec­tor gen­eral’s re­port.

As threats have risen, more judges have al­tered their routes to work, in­stalled se­cu­rity sys­tems at home and shielded their ad­dresses by pay­ing bills at the courthouse. Some even pack weapons on the bench.

Much of the con­cern over ju­di­cial se­cu­rity was fu­eled by the slay­ing of U.S. District Judge Joan H. Le­fkow’s hus­band and mother in their Chicago home in 2005. But the killing of a judge is rare.

Other than Vance, fed­eral judge Richard J. Daronco was shot to death in his back yard in New York in 1988 by the fa­ther of a plain­tiff in a dis­missed sex dis­crim­i­na­tion case. And U.S. District Judge John Wood was shot and killed out­side his San An­to­nio town­house in 1979. Charles Har­rel­son, fa­ther of ac­tor Woody Har­rel­son, is serv­ing a life sen­tence for the murder.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.