Here’s a look at notable cases in which US judges have been targets of lethal violence. Three federal judges were targeted and murdered from 1979 to present, Judge John Wood, Judge Richard Daronco and Judge Robert Vance, as well as several judges from lower courts.
US Marshals Service
The US Marshals Service is in charge of protecting federal judges.
The Marshals Service protects approximately 2,700 federal judges and about 30,300 other court officials at 888 court facilities throughout the nation.
2022 – 1,362 threats and inappropriate communications against the judiciary assessed by the Marshals.
2021 – 4,511 threats and inappropriate communications against the judiciary assessed by the Marshals.
2020 – 4,261 threats and inappropriate communications against the judiciary assessed by the Marshals.
2019 – 4,449 threats and inappropriate communications against the judiciary assessed by the Marshals.
2018 – 4,542 threats and inappropriate communications against the judiciary assessed by the Marshals.
2017 – 2,847 threats and inappropriate communications against the judiciary assessed by the Marshals.
2016 – 2,357 threats and inappropriate communications against the judiciary assessed by the Marshals.
2015 – 926 threats and inappropriate communications against the judiciary assessed, mitigated and deterred by the Marshals.
2014 – 768 threats and inappropriate communications against the judiciary assessed, mitigated and deterred by the Marshals.
June 3, 1974 – Washington state Superior Court Judge James Lawless is killed by a mail bomb in his chambers. Ricky Anthony Young is convicted of the crime.
May 29, 1979 – US District Judge John Wood is killed by a contract killer allegedly tied to a drug-smuggling case the judge is handling. Three members of the Chagra family are later convicted of conspiring to kill Wood. One of the Chagras had been scheduled to appear before Judge Wood in the drug smuggling case.
1983 – Illinois Judge Henry Gentile is shot and killed in his courtroom by a man whose divorce case is being handled by Judge Gentile. The man had hidden the gun used in a blanket in his wheelchair.
March 20, 1987 – Joel Cacace, of the Columbo crime family, hires hitmen to kill federal prosecutor William Aronwald. By mistake they tail Aronwald’s father, George, a 78-year-old city administrative law judge who shares an office with his son. They kill Aronwald when he stops to pick up his laundry.
September 14, 1987 – Mississippi Circuit Judge Vincent Sherry and his wife Margaret are killed in their home. The murders are tied to a prison scam run by former Biloxi Mayor Pete Halat who shared a law office with Sherry. Prosecutors say Halat believed the Sherrys may have taken some of the scam profits for themselves.
May 21, 1988 – US District Judge Richard Daronco is shot and killed at his home in Pelham, New York, by a man upset over Daronco’s dismissal of the man’s daughter’s sexual discrimination suit.
1989 – Federal Appeals Court Judge Robert Vance is killed in his home in Birmingham, Alabama, when he opens a mail bomb. Walter Leroy Moody Jr. is convicted of the death of Vance and attorney Robert Robinson. Prosecutors allege Moody sent the mail bombs out of anger over his conviction in 1972 for possessing a mail bomb.
March 18, 1999 – Los Angeles County Court Commissioner H. George Taylor and his wife Lynda Taylor are shot and killed at their home in Rancho Cucamonga, California. Investigators believe the shootings are “court-related” but the case remains unsolved.
February 28, 2005 – The husband and mother of US District Court Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow are shot to death inside the Lefkows’ Chicago home. A former plaintiff whose case had been dismissed by Judge Lefkow claims credit for the murder in a suicide note.
March 11, 2005 – Atlanta Judge Rowland Barnes and three others are fatally shot when Brian Nichols escapes custody while being escorted to Barnes’ courtroom to face a second trial on rape charges. Nichols went to Judge Barnes’ private chambers in the Fulton County courthouse and asked for him before entering Barnes’ courtroom and fatally shooting the judge and court reporter.
August 21, 2017 – Common Pleas Judge Joseph J. Bruzzese Jr. is ambushed and shot outside the Jefferson County Courthouse in Steubenville, Ohio. Bruzzese and an accompanying probation officer returned fire, killing the assailant. According to public court records, the suspect, Nate Richmond, is a plaintiff in a wrongful death case overseen by Bruzzese.
July 19, 2020 – A man wearing a FedEx uniform opens fire at the home of US District Court Judge Esther Salas. The suspected gunman, a hate-filled men’s rights attorney who had argued a case before Judge Salas, kills her son and seriously wounds her husband, Mark Anderl, when they open the door. The next day, law enforcement officials report the gunman died from self-inflicted wounds. Two weeks after the shooting, Judge Salas calls for greater privacy protections for judges.
June 3, 2022 – Former Juneau County Circuit Court Judge John Roemer, 68, is killed in a New Lisbon, Wisconsin, home, in a targeted attack. The suspect, identified as Douglas K. Uhde, was found in the basement of the home with an “apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,” and died four days later in the hospital. It was later revealed that Uhde had been sentenced to prison by Roemer more than 15 years ago, court documents show.
October 19, 2023 – Washington County Circuit Judge Andrew Wilkinson is fatally shot in his driveway by a suspect Wilkinson ruled against in a child custody case.