VanPac News History

Copyright 1989 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.

The Toronto Star

December 18,1989, Monday, ONT


LENGTH: 351 words

HEADLINE: Drug link investigated in U.S. judge's killing




MOUNTAIN BROOK, Ala. (AP-Reuter) - Federal agents yesterday searched the secluded estate of a federal judge who was killed by a mail Bomb delivered to his home.

The agents said a drug-related motive is possible.

Robert Vance, an 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge, was killed instantly when the package exploded about 3 p.m. Saturday in the kitchen of his luxurious Birmingham-area home, authorities said.

His wife, Helen, was injured and remains in hospital in serious condition.

Vance, 58, a progressive force in Alabama during 11 years as state chairman of the Democratic party, was the third U.S. federal judge to be assassinated in this century.

Federal Bureau of Investigation spokesperson Tom Moore said there are "specific leads," but declined to elaborate, saying only that numerous possibilities are being pursued.

Some Alabama political figures suggested the bombing is linked to the Colombian drug cartel, which has targeted judges in that country. Moore said a drug motive "is not being ruled out, but it is no more prominent than several other avenues we are following."

At many Birmingham-area churches, prayers for the recovery of Mrs. Vance were mingled with expressions of concern over drug-related violence in North America.

Vance had not asked for protection, and the U.S. marshal's office was unaware of any threats on his life. Asked about security for other federal judges, Moore said: "They have been warned."

Appointed to the federal appeals court in 1977 by then-president Jimmy Carter, Vance served in a circuit that reviewed cases from Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

Judges of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals hear "many appeal cases related to drugs from Miami," said Senator Howell Heflin of Alabama, a longtime friend of Vance's.

"There's speculation in that regard, but nobody knows."

"Indications are that (the bomb) was delivered by regular U.S. mail," not special delivery, Moore said. Mrs. Vance apparently was not standing close to her husband when explosion occurred. She was able to call a neighbor, who summoned police.

GRAPHIC: photo Robert Vance