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White separatists get mixed verdict in bombing and bank robbery case

April 3, 1997

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) _ A federal jury Wednesday deadlocked over charges that three white separatists carried out a string of bombings and bank robberies, but convicted them of lesser offenses carrying up to 35 years in prison.

Prosecutors did not immediately say whether they will retry the three men in the three bombings and two robberies, all of which took place in the Spokane area last year.

``Yahweh is king of everything!″ one of the defendants, Robert Berry, shouted as he was led from the courtroom.

Prosecutors said that Berry, Verne Jay Merrell and Charles Barbee, all of Sandpoint, Idaho, belonged to an anti-government militia cell with strongly held religious beliefs against banks and abortion. The three described themselves as ``ambassadors from Yahweh.″

After four days of deliberations, the jury was unable to reach a verdict on charges related to the bombing of a Planned Parenthood office and The Spokesman-Review newspaper, and the robbery and bombing of a bank.

``We needed more evidence to place these people where they were accused of being,″ said the jury foreman, Alan Eschenbacher.

But he told The Associated Press later that 11 of the jurors had voted to convict the men on all counts, while one refused to convict on eight of the most serious counts.

U.S. District Judge Frem Nielsen declared a mistrial on those charges.

The jury convicted the men of charges related to an Oct. 8 trip to Portland, Ore. The government said the trip was a failed bank robbery attempt.

The three were convicted of conspiracy, interstate transportation of stolen vehicles and possession of hand grenades. Each faces up to 35 years in prison for the four convictions. Sentencing was set for June 30.

The newspaper office was on bombed April 1, 1996, moments before the nearby bank was robbed and bombed. On July 12, the Planned Parenthood office was bombed shortly before the same bank branch was robbed again.

``I’m disappointed in the verdict. A lot of people did hard work on a long and difficult case,″ said U.S. Attorney James Connelly.

Merrell, 51, a former nuclear plant engineer, Barbee, 45, a former AT&T supervisor, and truck mechanic Berry, 42, were arrested Oct. 8.

They admitted stealing two vehicles and making a trip to a U.S. Bank branch in Portland to send a message against the evils of banking and usury, or charging interest on loans.

Using bank surveillance photographs of masked gunmen, government witnesses linked Berry and Barbee to the robberies through weapons they carried, military surplus clothing they wore and a pair of blue jeans found in Barbee’s home.

A fourth man, Brian Ratigan, 38, also of Sandpoint, is awaiting trial on charges of participating in the July 12 Planned Parenthood bombing and U.S. Bank robbery.

The bank was robbed of a total of $108,000. Prosecutors presented no evidence that the proceeds went toward white supremacist or terrorist activities. Federal agents testified the money apparently went toward rent, furniture and trips to Florida.

The newspaper office and the bank sustained moderate damage and have since rebuilt. Planned Parenthood, which provided counseling but performed no abortions at the office, closed the place after the bombing.

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