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Latest Bombing Attack Injures Judge in Apartment With AM-Mail Bombs

December 23, 1989

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) _ A pipe bomb delivered to a county judge’s apartment exploded and injured him Friday, but appeared to be unrelated to four other bomb attacks in four states since Saturday, authorities said.

Washington County Circuit Judge John Corderman, 47, was in stable condition after undergoing surgery to remove shrapnel in his abdomen and right hand, said Washington County Hospital spokeswoman Diana Donegan.

Corderman also lost the tip of his right middle finger and suffered severe damage to both eardrums, but he never lost consciousness and his life was in no immediate danger, hospital officials said.

A neighbor said the bomb exploded in Corderman’s third-floor downtown apartment about 10 minutes after a delivery man left a package in the building. The judge apparently was alone at the time, police said.

″Apparently, the device was situated outside when he arrived home. He retrieved it, entered the apartment and a short time later it exploded. We don’t know whether it was opened or not,″ said Chuck Jackson, Maryland State Police spokesman.

Corderman made his way outside his apartment, used a fire alarm to call for help and went back inside, where he collapsed, Jackson said.

″This was a life-threatening bomb. It was not of small proportion. The injuries however did not threaten him,″ said Dr. Charles Chaney, a surgeon at Washington County Hospital. Based on the injuries, Chaney said he believed Corderman was holding the parcel in his lap when it exploded.

A second, unexploded pipe bomb was found in the same package as the device that exploded, and was designed to detonate when the first one did, said Deputy Fire Marshal Faron Taylor. The second device was disarmed by two bomb specialists, he said. The building was evacuated.

George Hopgood, an assistant special agent in charge for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said the explosion appeared to be unrelated to four package bombs in the past week that exploded or were defused.

″It is not similar to the ones that have been found in the southeast. At this time there doesn’t appear to be any connection,″ Hopgood said.

Hagerstown Police Chief Paul Wood said investigators had not yet identified a motive.

Earlier, police Lt. Robert Frick said the blast had some similarities to the bombs that killed a federal judge in Alabama on Dec. 16 and, two days later, a city councilman who was also an NAACP attorney in Savannah, Ga.

However, ″we’ve got a lot of leads to follow up,″ he said.

Parcel bombs were also found this week at the Jacksonville, Fla., chapter of the NAACP and the 11th Circuit courthouse in Atlanta. Both were defused without incident.

Colleagues of the U.S. appellate judge who was killed, Robert S. Vance, have since received threatening letters, sources told The Associated Press on Friday.

In Washington, Justice Department spokesman David Runkel said he was unaware that letters had been delivered to judges on the 11th Circuit.

But Runkel said four threatening letters delivered this week bore physical evidence linking them to the bombs that killed Vance and the attorney, Robert E. Robinson. He would not say to whom they were delivered.

Following the Hagerstown explosion, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms arrived from the Baltimore office, about 65 miles southeast of here. FBI agents were also on the scene.

A neighbor of Corderman, Steven Keyes, 30, said he saw a delivery man bring a package to the building about 20 minutes before the 2:30 p.m. explosion.

″It looked like a normal person to me, a normal delivery,″ Keyes said. The delivery man stayed inside five to 10 minutes, and the explosion occurred about 10 minutes after he left, Keyes said.

″I thought maybe it was a neighbor who had dropped something on the floor. It sounded like a muffled-type bomb. My brother-in-law thought the truck had backfired,″ Keyes said.

Corderman, known as one of the toughest judges in the county, was not at work Friday because the courthouse was closed for the Christmas holiday.

″He’s a judge. He’s put a lot of people away,″ Frick said.

Corderman obtained a gun permit several years ago because of death threats.

According to Baltimore attorney Chris Brown, ″He’s the kind of gentleman who you like him or don’t like him. He has rubbed people the wrong way.″

Brown said the judge ″takes unusual stances and gives lawyers a hard time. He’s a very colorful outspoken, controversial judge.″

Hagerstown attorney Edward Button called Corderman a legal scholar and ″an extremely competent judge. He knows the law very, very well.″ The explosion blew holes in both Corderman’s eardrums, and he lost 75 percent hearing in his right ear and 50 percent in the left, Chaney said. Reconstructive surgery could restore some of Corderman’s hearing, he said.

He said the judge was under guard and would probably stay in the hospital for three days.

″His only concern was that the other judges be made aware of the incident and take precautions,″ Chaney said.

An FBI-led investigation has been concentrating on possible racial motivations for the killings in Georgia and Alabama.

Brown said Corderman is unlikely to have handled racially sensitive cases because few of them arise in Washington County, which has a relatively small black population. However, inmates at two state prisons in Washington County often go before circuit judges in Hagerstown.

A Democrat, Corderman gave up his state senate seat in 1977 at age 35 to fill a vacancy on the bench and was elected to a 15-year term as judge the next year. He was elected in 1983 as president of the Maryland State Bar Association, the first judge in decades to hold the post.

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