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Informants Add Detail To Bombings Court Documents Say Suspects Boasted Of 15 Bank Robberies

Sat., Dec. 21, 1996

Court documents unsealed Friday offer new insights into the case against three North Idaho men accused of domestic terrorism in Spokane Valley bombings and bank robberies.

The documents reveal these allegations:

The suspects frequently talked about killing police officers and bank security guards.

They put bulletproof lead in doors of their Chevrolet Suburbans and equipped them with machine guns that could be fired through remotely opened rear doors.

One suspect boasted that the group had committed 15 bank robberies.

The information came from two informants eager to collect a $130,000 reward and concerned about public safety. They provided the FBI with the suspects’ names in August, seven weeks before they were arrested.

Verne Jay Merrell, 51, Charles H. Barbee, 42, and Robert S. Berry, 42, all of Sandpoint, were arrested Oct. 8 near Yakima.

The arrests occurred after FBI agents followed three cars from Sandpoint to Portland, where another bank robbery was thwarted when authorities told the bank to lock its doors.

The three terrorism suspects remain in the Spokane County Jail, where they are being held without bond.

At least one other suspect is being sought.

The three men were indicted Dec. 5, each accused of 12 counts of bombing, bank robbery and companion crimes.

The charges are related to April 1 and July 12 robberies at a U.S. Bank branch in the Spokane Valley, as well as bombings at the bank and the Valley offices of The Spokesman-Review and Planned Parenthood.

The three are now scheduled to stand trial Feb. 10 in U.S. District Court in Spokane.

Defense attorneys are expected to ask Chief Judge Frem Nielsen to move the trial elsewhere because of extensive local news coverage of the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Rice filed legal papers Friday, forcing the defendants to say within 10 days whether they will use alibi defenses.

Because the robbers were masked, the defendants could argue that they were elsewhere and not responsible for the robberies or bombings.

“They’re not linked to any other bank robberies at this time, but we’re not leaving any possibility untouched,” Rice said when asked about information in the documents.

The two informants aren’t identified by name because there is continuing concern for their safety, Rice said. One of the informants will seek protection in the Federal Witness Protection program or be relocated to another city at government expense.

The first informant contacted the FBI on Aug. 18, “explaining that he was concerned for the public’s safety and desired to collect the reward,” the court documents say.

The informant told the FBI he had sold the suspects military surplus equipment after meeting Berry at a 1992 gun show in Spokane.

“He stated he sold the group military parkas identical to those used in the April 1 robbery,” the documents say, outlining information the informant gave the FBI.

That robbery occurred immediately after a bombing at the Spokane Valley office of The Spokesman-Review.

The documents also disclose that the informant told the FBI:

The newspaper bombing was “meant to be a message” to The Spokesman-Review and a reporter who had written last December about a militia group in North Idaho.

The Planned Parenthood clinic was targeted on July 12 “because the group believes abortion is sinful.”

During the April 1 bank robbery, masked robbers exploded a bomb in the bank and left behind a written statement containing references to white separatism.

The statement was signed by a white supremacy enforcement sect known as the Phineas Priesthood.

Later, the informant told the FBI that the bombers were mailing threatening notes, which subsequently were received by the newspaper, U.S. Bank and Planned Parenthood.

Even after secretly contacting the FBI, the informant continued meeting with the suspects, who tried to recruit him into their group.

The three men referred to banks as “temples of Satan.” The informant quoted Berry as saying it was good the potential recruit had not accompanied the trio to Spokane because Barbee had seen a bank security officer and “wanted to slay the guard.”

A second informant, also not identified in court papers, contacted the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on Aug. 22, and corroborated information supplied by the first informant.

With information supplied by the first informant, the FBI learned that Berry and Barbee advertised a 1991 Chevrolet Suburban for sale in a newspaper advertisement.

An undercover FBI agent and a U.S. Customs undercover officer went to Sandpoint on Sept. 13 to look at the vehicle. Four days later, the undercover federal agents returned and bought the Suburban for $10,500 cash.

A later FBI examination of the vehicle revealed the rear doors had been modified, possibly to allow a machine gun to be fired from inside.

, DataTimes


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