TUCSON, Ariz. — One day after mourning a bubbly 9-year-old slain during the attempted assassination of a congresswoman, residents and fellow jurists gathered Friday at the same Tucson church to remember a federal judge.
U.S. District Judge John Roll, whose legal career spanned 40 years, had stopped by a supermarket meet-and-greet for Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Saturday when he was shot and killed, along with five others. Authorities say the shooter, 22-year-old Jared Loughner, was targeting Giffords, who was wounded along with 12 others. Giffords’ husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, posted a message on Twitter Friday saying “GG” was “improving each day.”
Security was tight at the funeral Friday morning as U.S. marshals checked the IDs of those entering the parking lot. Four big coach buses brought dozens of judges who knew Roll over the years, and many who came did not get in.
“He was just a tremendous person, everyone respected him,” said Michael Massee, 48, who served as a law clerk for Roll in U.S. District Court in Tucson from 1994 to 1996. “In his previous career, he had been a prosecutor mostly, but even the defense attorneys I knew respected him and had no fear of appearing before him because you knew, like an umpire, he would call the strikes and balls fairly.”
Roll’s three sons were among the pallbearers, and family members and two federal judges gave readings, according to a program for the funeral. The service was to end with the song “When Irish Eyes are Smiling.”
Dignitaries including Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, and former Vice President Dan Quayle were to attend, said Adam Goldberg, a spokesman for the fire department and the event. Quayle brought a handwritten message from former President George H.W. Bush, who appointed Roll to the bench in 1991, Goldberg said.
The security stood in contrast to another funeral at the same church the day before for the youngest shooting victim, Christina Taylor Green.
Most of the nation had never heard of Green before the tragedy Saturday, but Roll, 63, had attracted death threats and become a lightning rod in the state’s immigration debate after his ruling in a controversial border-crossing case two years ago.
For the dark-haired third-grader’s funeral, 2,000 mourners packed the church and hundreds more — including dozens of children — lined both sides of the street outside for more than a quarter-mile to show their support. Hundreds of motorcycle riders from all over stood guard. More than a dozen residents were dressed as angels and some mourners dressed in white placed candles alongside the road leading to the church.
On Friday, an hour before Roll’s funeral, cars lined up for nearly a mile, waiting to enter church grounds, but the streets around the church were mostly empty except for media, about a dozen mourners outside the church and a strong showing of patrol cars and SWAT officers in all-green uniforms.
Tucson resident Mary Kool, 58, came to both services, wearing white Friday and carrying a red rose.
“I feel like it’s important to support all the families and let them know Tucson cares,” she said. “We are so devastated. We need to get together somehow and stop the violence.”
Roll, 63, was heralded as a stern but fair-minded judge on the bench, and as a fun, family-loving man outside court. The father of three was Catholic and attended daily Mass. He had just come from a service when he stopped by the local Safeway to see Giffords, by some accounts to thank her for her support in addressing the issue of a federal judge and court shortage in Arizona.
Roll died on a Saturday full of mundane errands, but he was no stranger to death threats and controversy during his years on the federal bench.
Two years ago, Roll presided over the case of 16 illegal immigrants who had sued border rancher Roger Barnett, saying he threatened them at gunpoint, kicked them and harassed them with dogs. Barnett argued that the plaintiffs couldn’t sue him because they were in the U.S. illegally, but Roll upheld the civil rights claim and allowed a jury to hear the case.
The panel eventually awarded the illegal immigrants just $73,000 — much less than the millions sought — but the case was a flash point in a state that struggles to curb crossings at its border.
Roll received death threats was under around-the-clock protection while hearing the case.
“It was unnerving and invasive ... by its nature it has to be,” Roll told the Arizona Republic in a mid-2009 interview.
He said he followed the advice of the Marshals Service to not press charges against four men identified as threatening him.
Roll also had taken a leading position in pressing for more courts and judges to deal with the dramatic increase in federal cases caused by illegal immigration. A week before his death, he declared a judicial emergency in southern Arizona as the number of federal felony cases more than doubled, from 1,564 to 3,289, the Los Angeles Times reported.
He asked the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for an emergency declaration extending the time to bring felony defendants into court from 70 days to 180 days, the paper reported.
Roll was an Arizona Court of Appeals and state trial court judge from 1987 to 1991. He worked as a city, county and federal prosecutor from 1973 until his appointment to the bench. He also worked for two years as a bailiff in the Pima County courts in the early 1970s.
A Pennsylvania native, he earned undergraduate and law degrees at the University of Arizona and an advanced law degree from the University of Virginia. He was an avid golfer and was heavily involved in his church, St. Thomas the Apostle. He is survived by his wife, Maureen, three sons, and five grandchildren.
Friends and family described a fairly mischievous child who was sometimes sent to the principal’s office. Roll’s older brother, Ed, said the extended family spends each Father’s Day together at a lake.
Roll walked his two basset hounds around the neighborhood every morning, and seemed inseparable from his wife, said George Kriss, 70, who came to the service Friday but didn’t get in.
“They were always together, walking the dogs, when the grandkids were with them,” Kriss said.
Associated Press writer Bob Christie in Phoenix contributed to this report.