Nation/World

Trial Ends In Hung Jury Juror Forces Mistrial On Major Counts

The government’s case against three North Idaho men accused of terrorizing the Spokane Valley dissolved Wednesday when deadlocked jurors walked away in frustration.

The jury was hung 11-1 in favor of convicting the white separatists on all eight felony counts stemming from last year’s bombings and robberies.

During the final two days of deliberations, the lone holdout refused to budge.

U.S. District Judge Frem Nielsen declared a mistrial on the unresolved counts, ending a five-week trial. Federal prosecutors are expected to announce today that they will re-file those charges.

One of the jurors, who asked not to be identified, later apologized to the region.

“I think those three people were guilty, and I want to tell the people I’m sorry we couldn’t come to a decision,” said the Kennewick man, a school district employee.

The defendants were found guilty of lesser crimes they admitted committing in connection with their arrest last October in Union Gap, Wash.

Charles Barbee, 45; Robert Berry, 43; and Verne Jay Merrell, 51, were convicted of conspiracy, car thefts and possession of hand grenades. Sentencing is scheduled for June 30.

Early in the deliberations, the juror who later became the holdout boasted that he could cause a deadlock on the Valley charges, other jurors said.

“We all talked to that person,” said jury foreman Alan Eschenbacher, a Spokane insurance agent. “But it didn’t make a difference. To my dying day, I won’t understand.”

The mistrial was an early birthday present for Berry, a Sandpoint mechanic, who turns 43 today.

“Yahweh is King … of everything!” he shouted as he left the courtroom in handcuffs.

From the gallery, his teenage son, Curtis, shouted back, “Hallelujah!”

But U.S. Attorney Jim Connelly indicated the case was far from over.

“My personal view is that the case should be re-tried,” Connelly said.

Weary defense attorneys were relieved by the outcome, but refused to call it a victory.

“I think of it as a non-defeat,” said attorney Roger Peven, who represented Barbee. “I wouldn’t say Chuck was happy.”

Aaron Lowe, who represented Merrell, said he may ask to be removed as Merrell’s court-appointed attorney.

“This is the weirdest case I’ve ever been involved in, and the weirdness is continuing …,” Lowe said.

“Now the government gets to take another crack at it,” said John Rodgers, Berry’s attorney.

Connelly lamented the prospect of a second trial, and having to repeat months of preparation.

“It’s a disappointment that the jury was unable to reach a decision on many of the counts because a lot of people put in a lot of hard work,” he said.

Assistant U.S. attorneys Stephanie Lister and Joseph Harrington, who prosecuted the case, deferred comment to Connelly. A third prosecutor, Tom Rice, was out of town and couldn’t be reached for comment.

Connelly said he will announce today whether the defendants will be re-tried.

“I don’t want to make a formal decision on that until I discuss the matter with the federal agencies involved, and our staff attorneys and the Justice Department,” he said.

A special FBI task force was assigned to investigate the domestic terrorism case. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents lent their expertise on bombs and weapons.

FBI regional supervisor Burdena Pasenelli didn’t immediately return telephone calls from her Seattle office.

But another FBI agent involved in the case quickly responded “Yes, yes, yes!” when asked if the three should face a second trial.

The question the U.S. Attorney’s Office must now wrestle with is whether to re-try the three men with a fourth defendant - Brian E. Ratigan, 38, of Sandpoint.

Ratigan was arrested in Spokane on March 13, midway through the bombing and robbery trial. The former U.S. Army sniper is only charged with crimes that occurred last July.

He is charged with conspiracy, bombing of the Spokane Valley Planned Parenthood clinic and participation in the hold-up of a U.S. Bank branch, both on July 12.

Berry, Barbee and Merrell also were charged with bombing Valley offices of The Spokesman-Review and U.S. Bank, and robbing the bank last April 1.

The bombers wore knit masks, goggles, and gloves and were covered by military-style parkas or ponchos. A getaway driver waited in stolen vans during the crimes.

Prosecutors contend Berry dropped the bombs and used a pistol to take money from bank tellers. They said Barbee used a shotgun to keep bank employees and customers against a far wall, while Merrell stayed in the van.

Merrell was the only defendant to testify, and deemed himself an “Ambassador to Yahweh” - a Hebrew term for God commonly used by white separatists.

If convicted of all charges, Berry, Barbee and Merrell would have faced mandatory life sentences and up to $3 million in fines.

The case against Ratigan will be presented to a federal grand jury Tuesday in Spokane. That panel likely will be asked to return a formal indictment against Ratigan.

He is being held in jail without bond.

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: The verdicts The jury convicted Charles Barbee, Verne Jay Merrell and Robert Berry of four of the 12 charges and deadlocked on the rest. Here are the charges and the verdicts: Count 1: Conspiracy. GUILTY. Count 2: Destruction of a building used in interstate commerce; i.e., bombing at The Spokesman-Review’s Valley office on April 1. NO DECISION. Count 3: Carrying a firearm (pipe bomb) during a crime of violence; i.e., the pipe bomb used during The Spokesman-Review bombing. NO DECISION. Count 4: Use of force, violence, intimidation during a robbery; i.e., armed robbery of $72,010 from U.S. Bank April 1. NO DECISION. Count 5: Carrying a firearm (pipe bomb) during a crime of violence; i.e., bombing at U.S. Bank on April 1. NO DECISION. Count 6: Destruction of a building used in interstate commerce; i.e., bombing at Planned Parenthood on July 12. NO DECISION. Count 7: Carrying a firearm (pipe bomb) during crime of violence; i.e., bombing at Planned Parenthood. NO DECISION. Count 8: Use of force, violence, intimidation during a robbery; i.e., armed robbery of $36,666 from U.S. Bank on July 12. NO DECISION. Count 9: Carrying a firearm (AK-47, Winchester shotgun, Ruger Vaquero pistol) during a crime of violence; i.e., robbery of U.S. Bank on July 12. NO DECISION. Count 10: Transportation across state lines of a stolen vehicle; i.e., 1996 Chevrolet Suburban taken from Pocatello, Idaho, seized during arrest in Union Gap, Wash., on Oct. 8. GUILTY. Count 11: Transportation across state lines of a stolen vehicle; i.e., 1996 Ford Aerostar van taken from Hood River, Ore., seized during arrest in Union Gap on Oct. 8. GUILTY. Count 12: Possession of unlawful firearms; i.e., six hand grenades (two in each vehicle) seized during Oct. 8 arrest. GUILTY. Craig Welch

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Craig Welch and Bill Morlin Staff writers Staff writers Kelly McBride and Kim Barker contributed to this report.

This sidebar appeared with the story: The verdicts The jury convicted Charles Barbee, Verne Jay Merrell and Robert Berry of four of the 12 charges and deadlocked on the rest. Here are the charges and the verdicts: Count 1: Conspiracy. GUILTY. Count 2: Destruction of a building used in interstate commerce; i.e., bombing at The Spokesman-Review’s Valley office on April 1. NO DECISION. Count 3: Carrying a firearm (pipe bomb) during a crime of violence; i.e., the pipe bomb used during The Spokesman-Review bombing. NO DECISION. Count 4: Use of force, violence, intimidation during a robbery; i.e., armed robbery of $72,010 from U.S. Bank April 1. NO DECISION. Count 5: Carrying a firearm (pipe bomb) during a crime of violence; i.e., bombing at U.S. Bank on April 1. NO DECISION. Count 6: Destruction of a building used in interstate commerce; i.e., bombing at Planned Parenthood on July 12. NO DECISION. Count 7: Carrying a firearm (pipe bomb) during crime of violence; i.e., bombing at Planned Parenthood. NO DECISION. Count 8: Use of force, violence, intimidation during a robbery; i.e., armed robbery of $36,666 from U.S. Bank on July 12. NO DECISION. Count 9: Carrying a firearm (AK-47, Winchester shotgun, Ruger Vaquero pistol) during a crime of violence; i.e., robbery of U.S. Bank on July 12. NO DECISION. Count 10: Transportation across state lines of a stolen vehicle; i.e., 1996 Chevrolet Suburban taken from Pocatello, Idaho, seized during arrest in Union Gap, Wash., on Oct. 8. GUILTY. Count 11: Transportation across state lines of a stolen vehicle; i.e., 1996 Ford Aerostar van taken from Hood River, Ore., seized during arrest in Union Gap on Oct. 8. GUILTY. Count 12: Possession of unlawful firearms; i.e., six hand grenades (two in each vehicle) seized during Oct. 8 arrest. GUILTY. Craig Welch

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Craig Welch and Bill Morlin Staff writers Staff writers Kelly McBride and Kim Barker contributed to this report.



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