Judge John Roll - Victim of Tucson Shooting

Judge John Roll - Victim of Tucson Shooting American History Government Disasters

John Roll (whose full name was John McCarthy Roll) was the Chief Judge of Arizona's federal court.  Appointed to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush, Judge Roll received his commission as a federal judge in November of 1991.  He served as chief judge of the court since 2006.

Judge Roll, born in 1947, was married.  He and his wife, Maureen, had three sons and five grandchildren.  Originally from Pittsburgh, he studied at the University of Arizona where he graduated with a Bachelor's Degree (in 1969) and a law degree (in 1972).

In 2006, Judge Roll testified before Congress on Arizona immigration issues.  He, and other judges, suggested ways in which the courts could better manage immigration cases.

Shortly before he died - one of six people shot to death on January 8, 2011 - Judge Roll declared that the federal bench in Tucson was in a state of "judicial emergency."  Because of so many felony cases, pending in the court, the judges could not comply with federally mandated "speedy-trial" requirements in criminal cases.

To address the problem, Judge Roll sent a letter (on November 24, 2010) asking for relief from the situation (which was overwhelming the court). Directed to  the Chief Judge of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, Judge Alex Kozinski, his letter expressed dismay at what was happening in, and around, Tucson.  The following are some of his key points:

  • Without the possibility of relief from a declaration of judicial emergency, Tucson division is simply unable to absorb the enormous increase in felony cases being scheduled for trial while remaining compliant with the time limits set by the Speedy Trial Act.

  • The addition of what sometimes seems to be an inexhaustible number of law enforcement agents and federal prosecutors in Tucson division has now produced a tsunami of federal felony cases far beyond the management capacity of the four active district judges in Tucson division.

  • We've reached a choke point.

  • The problem is there are only five Southwest border [federal judicial] districts ... So you have 46 states that may think that the Southwest border is a drain on all the available resources. They're not as receptive to the idea that the judicial resources should go to the Southwest border.

  • We need judges.

On the 21st of December, 2010, Judge Roll sent a follow-up email to Judge Kozinski.  Attached to his email was a letter of support from Gabrielle Giffords - who was also shot (in the head but survived and is making remarkable progress) during the January 8th rampage - and one of her Congressional colleagues.  At the time of his death, the need for more judges in southern Arizona remained an open issue.

In February of 2009, Judge Roll was the target of numerous death threats.  People were angry when he allowed a case against an Arizona rancher, filed by illegal immigrants, to proceed. 

U.S. Marshals protected Roll - on a 24/7 basis - for a month (scroll down 80%).  Not only did they escort him to court, and guard his home outside Tucson, they screened his mail, walked him to the gym and made sure he was safe when he attended Mass.

No guards were protecting Judge Roll on the 8th of January, 2011, when he was fatally shot, by an apparently deranged young man, near a Tucson grocery store.

According to Richard Kastigar, chief investigator for the Pima County Sheriff's Department, surveillance videos - in place and operating at the time of the shooting - reveal that Judge Roll died a hero's death by covering one of Gabby Giffords' injured colleagues with his own body.  Seconds after his protective actions, the Judge was shot in the back (with the bullet fatally damaging his aorta).

Commenting on John Roll's death, Chief Justice John Roberts said:

The violence in Arizona today has senselessly taken five lives and inflicted tragic loss on dedicated public servants and their families.

We in the judiciary have suffered the terrible loss of one of our own. Chief Judge John Roll was a wise jurist who selflessly served Arizona and the nation with great distinction, as attorney and judge, for more than 35 years. I express my deepest condolences to his wife Maureen and his children, as well as the other victims and their families.

Chief 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.

On the 12th of January, 2011, President Obama delivered the keynote address at a memorial service for the Tucson victims, including Judge Roll.  In that speech - entitled "Together We Thrive:  Tucson and America" - he also honored the individuals who stopped the gunman from causing further harm.

The Federal Judiciary Center provides a more detailed biography of John Roll's legal career:

Roll, John McCarthy - Born 1947 in Pittsburgh, PA

Federal Judicial Service:

Judge, U. S. District Court, District of Arizona

Nominated by George H.W. Bush on September 23, 1991, to a seat vacated by Alfred C. Marquez; Confirmed by the Senate on November 22, 1991, and received commission on November 25, 1991. Served as chief judge, 2006-present.


University of Arizona, B.A., 1969

University of Arizona College of Law, J.D., 1972

University of Virginia School of Law, LL.M., 1990

Professional Career:

Bailiff, Pima County Superior Court, 1972-1973

Assistant city attorney, Tucson, Arizona, 1973

Deputy county attorney, Criminal Division, Pima County, Arizona, 1973-1980

Clinical instructor, University of Arizona College of Law, 1978-1979

Assistant U.S. attorney, District of Arizona, 1980-1987

Organized crime drug task force, 1982-1986

Civil division, 1986-1987

Judge, Court of Appeals, Division Two, State of Arizona, 1987-1991

Presiding judge, 1988-1991

Vice-chief judge, 1991

Judge, Pima County Superior Court, Criminal Bench, 1991

Judge, U. S. District Court, District of Arizona (1991-2011)

Click on the image for a better view.

Media Credits

Image of Judge John McCarthy Roll, courtesy U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Quoted biography of Judge Roll, online courtesy Federal Judiciary Center.

Source for quotations from Judge Roll's November 24, 2010 letter - Arizona Daily Star.


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"Judge John Roll - Victim of Tucson Shooting" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Nov 21, 2019.
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