Criminal Justice

Federal Judge John Roll Killed in Attack that Targeted Congresswoman


Chief Judge John M. Roll of the U.S. District Court of Arizona was shot and killed Saturday by a gunman in front of a Tucson Safeway grocery store. He was 63.

A 9-year-old child also is confirmed among six dead. Several others are being treated for gunshot wounds, according to media reports.

The shooting appeared to target U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona as she was meeting with constituents at the store. Giffords, who was shot in the head, emerged from surgery and was in critical condition. Her doctor, however, was “optimistic” about her recovery.

NBC News reported the judge lived just a few blocks away from the supermarket. He had gone to mass and decided to stop at the store to say hello to Giffords on his way home, according to Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who was quoted by the Arizona Daily Star.

The Associated Press identified the shooter as Jared Loughner, 22. Media reports said he is in custody after being tackled by two people at the event. He may have had an accomplice, Sheriff Dupnik said at a Saturday evening news conference.

The Arizona Daily Star links to several YouTube videos that appear to be from Loughner. According to the newspaper, they “contain a series of sometimes incoherent grievances involving currencies, grammar, the Constitution and religion.” Dupnik said the gunman has made previous death threats, but they didn’t target Giffords.

The gun used in the shooting was purchased legally at a Sportman’s Warehouse, sources told the Washington Post.

FBI Director Robert Mueller is traveling to Arizona to help coordinate the investigation, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced. “We will hold accountable anyone responsible for these heinous acts,” he said.

President Obama praised the judge for having “served America’s legal system for almost 40 years.” Authorities do not yet know “what provoked this unspeakable act,” the President said in remarks this afternoon.

U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts said in a written statement that “Judge Roll’s death is a somber reminder of the importance of the rule of law and the sacrifices of those who work to secure it.”

Arizona Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch remembered Judge Roll as “a kind man, a wise and fair jurist, and a friend to many within the legal community,” the Arizona Republic reports.

ABA President Stephen N. Zack called the shootings “a direct attack on our American way of life and the rule of law” and said Judge Roll was “a respected and admired jurist.”

“This shocking and frightening event emphasizes the importance of protecting and respecting our civic life, and all those who participate in it,” Zack said.

Judge Roll was nominated to the bench in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush. He had served as chief judge since 2006.

Judge Roll received his J.D. from University of Arizona College of Law in 1972 and a LL.M. from University of Virginia School of Law in 1990. He had served as a prosecutor for Tucson, Pima County and the U.S. Department of Justice in Arizona. He was a judge on Arizona’s Court of Appeals from 1987 to 1991, including serving as its presiding judge from 1988 to 1991.

Roll himself had been the subject of death threats in 2009, when he presided over a $32 million civil-rights lawsuit filed by illegal immigrants against an Arizona rancher, the Arizona Republic reported.

When Roll ruled the case could go forward, he received more than 200 calls from members of the public in a single afternoon, the newspaper quoted U.S. Marshal for Arizona David Gonzales as saying.

Roll and his wife were given protection for about a month. “It was unnerving and invasive…By its nature it has to be,” Roll told the paper at the time.

Law enforcement officials identified four individuals responsible for the threats, but recommended the judge not seek prosecution. The judge took the Marshals advice.

“I have a very strong belief that there is nothing wrong with criticizing a judicial decision,” Roll said. “But when it comes to threats, that is an entirely different matter.”

According to federal courts spokesman David Sellers, the last federal judge to have been assassinated while in office was U.S. District Judge Robert Smith Vance, who was killed on December 16, 1989 by a mail bomb at his home in Alabama. Last year, Judge Roll’s colleague Judge Susan Bolton was threatened both before and after she issued a ruling on Arizona’s controversial new immigration measure. The threats prompted U.S. Marshals to increase security at federal courthouses in the state, reports Politics Daily columnist Andrew Cohen.

Previous coverage:

ABAJournal.com (post mentioning threats against Judge Roll): Security Worries Spur Some Judges to Pack Heat, Use 24-Hour Guards

Additional coverage:

New York Times: “Amid Shock, Recalling Judge’s Life of Service”

New York Times: “Arizona Suspect’s Online Trail Offers Hints of Alienation”

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