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Detonators, Bomb Gear Confiscated Materials Similar To Valley Bombs

Fri., Oct. 11, 1996

Bomb-making materials and detonators similar to those used in three Spokane Valley bombings were seized Thursday as authorities searched a suspect’s home.

FBI agents also found several weapons during the daylong hunt for evidence at Jay Merrill’s home northeast of Sandpoint.

Merrill, about 50, was arrested Tuesday along with Charles H. Barbee, 44, and Robert S. Berry, 42.

The men, who live near Sandpoint and have ties to the white supremacy and militia movements, face nine felony charges relating to separate robberies and bombings in July and April.

On April 1, masked men detonated a bomb behind the Spokesman-Review’s Valley office and, minutes later, robbed and bombed a nearby U.S. Bank branch.

On July 12, a bomb exploded at the Valley Planned Parenthood clinic. Again, the bank was robbed minutes later.

The robbers made off with more than $108,000 in the two robberies, authorities say.

More than 100 federal agents swarmed into Sandpoint Wednesday to search the suspects’ homes and an automotive repair shop rented by Berry.

Only a handful of agents remained Thursday.

At Merrill’s home, they also found several photographs showing Barbee with a group of men dressed in camouflage during paramilitary training in a remote wooded area, a source close to the investigation said.

The photos link Merrill to the group, the source said, and may provide other clues to bolster the conspiracy charge against the three men.

Further details about the seized bomb-making materials were not immediately available.

Barbee and Berry were suspects in the bombing and robbery case for several months, said Bonner County Sheriff Chip Roos. Local authorities had been investigating the two men and also knew of their militia ties.

“We have been working on these people for various other reasons and in connection with this (the bombings),” Roos said. “Sometimes several things collide and one thing leads us to another.”

Roos would not elaborate on what “other reasons” led North Idaho authorities to investigate Barbee and Berry.

But federal authorities allege Barbee, Berry and Merrill conspired for more than a year to commit crimes against the government, including plotting the robberies and bombings.

The conspiracy dates back to at least May 1995, when Barbee and Berry were arrested in Kelso, Wash. Police stopped the Chevrolet Suburban the men were driving and found it loaded with fire bombs, rifles, silencers, police radio scanners and camouflage outfits.

Barbee and Berry were convicted of carrying a concealed weapon without a permit and possession of marijuana after the Kelso arrests.

Authorities said they still are hunting for several suspects, including two men and a woman they believe were involved in the Spokane Valley crimes.

Roos said it’s unlikely those suspects are in the Bonner County area. However, he said, authorities plan to search one more Bonner County location sometime today.

The case has generated more national media attention for Sandpoint.

The town was labeled a haven for racists after the Randy Weaver standoff at Ruby Ridge and when former Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman moved here more than a year ago.

This week’s arrests prompted calls from CNN, CBS and ABC. Spokane television stations also showed up Thursday to get reaction to another wave of militia activity.

, DataTimes

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