Prosecutor says defendants feared Obama would curb gun rights, embarked on bank bomb plot

By Jeff Barnard, AP
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Father and son go on trial in Ore. bank bombing

SALEM, Ore. — Fears that newly elected President Barack Obama would curb gun owners’ rights served as the catalyst for a father and son to plant a bomb at a bank that killed two police officers and maimed a third, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Bruce A. Turnidge, 59, and his son, Joshua A. Turnidge, 34, turned against each other to refute the charges during during opening statements in the murder trial.

The son’s defense attorney said his client was shocked to learn that his father had finally carried out one of the hare-brained schemes he had been concocting for years, while the father’s attorney called the son a liar trying to refute evidence he talked on cell phones linked to the bombing.

The Turnidges are on trial in Marion County Circuit Court on aggravated murder and other charges that could lead to the death penalty for the Dec. 12, 2008, explosion at the West Coast Bank in Woodburn, Ore. The blast killed State Police bomb technician Senior Trooper William Hakim and Woodburn Police Capt. Thomas Tennant.

Woodburn Police Chief Russell Scott lost a leg.

Prosecutor Katie Suver said that the Turnidges built the bomb and rigged it with a remote-control switch that probably was inadvertently triggered by a signal from a passing trucker talking on his CB radio on nearby Interstate 5 while police were trying to dismantle the device. The Turnidges had left the scene.

Suver added that Bruce Turnidge once tried to create his own militia, seeking financing from a wealthy businessman, and told people the Oklahoma City federal building bombing was a good thing that would keep the government in check. Witnesses are expected to testify that father and son frequently spoke about robbing banks, and were setting up friends and family for an influx of cash by saying they had an investor who would be backing their struggling biodiesel and cell phone tower construction businesses.

Suver described Bruce Turnidge sitting on the edge of his seat while investigators waited for a warrant to search his home and shop just days after the bombing. He told an FBI agent watching over him about his objections to a black president — whom he described with a racial epithet — and the need for citizens to be armed.

Turnidge spoke about “his opinion that citizens needed to be armed to the same degree the government was, in other words with fully automatic weapons, in order to keep the government in check,” Suver told jurors.

Evidence seized included plywood bearing an outline of the off-square base of the metal box that housed the bomb, spray-painted in the same light green color, and with the chemical makeup of the paint, used on the container, Suver said.

Defense attorney Steven Krasik tried to divert some of the blame for the tragedy on bomb technician Hakim, calling him a flawed hero who failed to recognize that the bomb was real before taking it inside the bank and taking it apart.

He said the other flawed man was Bruce Turnidge, who he said “wanted to be a hero, and in doing so he concocted year after year, day after day, phantasmagorical plans. Plans of bank robberies, helicopter escapes, shootouts.”

Krasik said that on the day after the bombing, Joshua Turnidge went to cut firewood at the farm where his father rented a house, and found him in the shop in a strange mood, power-washing the workbench, saying over and over: “Nobody was supposed to get hurt.”

“And it dawns on Josh that his dad had something to do with the bombing he had heard of,” Krasik said. “This time one of Bruce’s crazy plans happened.”

Defense attorney John Storkel, who represents the father, countered that Joshua Turnidge was a habitual liar, implying he needed to refute evidence of his DNA on cell phones connected to the bombing.

Storkel noted that surveillance video of the man who bought air cards activating the cell phones showed Joshua Turnidge, not his father, and the voice of the man calling a neighboring bank with a bomb threat was one in his 30s or 40s.

Storkel added that handwriting analysis showed that Joshua Turnidge, not his father, had written calculations of how much $24 million worth of $100 bills would weigh, not his father. He also noted that Bruce Turnidge surrendered peacefully at Jefferson Baptist Church after being notified he was wanted for the bombing.

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