Nation/World

Grand Jury Indicts Fourth Bomb Suspect Feds Want To Try Defendants Together After Mistrial

One week after a mistrial was declared, a federal grand jury returned a new indictment Wednesday against three men accused of domestic terrorism in the Spokane Valley.

The indictment in the bombing and robbery case adds a fourth defendant: Brian E. Ratigan, 38, of Sandpoint.

The former Army sniper was arrested midway through the monthlong trial of Charles Barbee, 45, Robert Berry, 43, and Verne Jay Merrell, 51, all of Sandpoint.

They were convicted April 2 of conspiracy, two counts of interstate transportation of stolen vehicles and possessing hand grenades.

But the jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of convicting the defendants on the Valley bombing and robbery charges. A day after U.S. District Judge Frem Nielsen declared a mistrial on those counts, prosecutors announced they would put the men on trial again.

The four men remain in jail without bond.

The next trial could occur as soon as June 2, but defense attorneys may seek a continuance.

Federal defender Roger Peven, who represents Barbee, said he is scheduled to be out of town in early June, and will ask to have the trial delayed until July.

Peven said he hadn’t been to the Spokane County Jail to see Barbee, but said his client fully expected to stand trial again.

Peven and other defense attorneys are expected to challenge the prosecution’s plan to try Ratigan with the other defendants. They likely will argue that a combined trial prejudices their clients’ rights to a fair trail.

U.S. Attorney Jim Connelly said trying all four defendants at once is intended to save taxpayers’ money.

“I just think it will be most practical and cost-effective,” Connelly said.

The chief federal prosecutor wouldn’t comment when asked whether he believes adding Ratigan strengthens the government’s case against the others.

The FBI located witnesses who say Ratigan made incriminating statements after the other men were arrested Oct. 8 near Yakima, according to court documents.

Ratigan was later identified as a suspect in the bombing last July 12 of a Planned Parenthood clinic in the Valley, and the robbery of a nearby U.S. Bank branch.

Shortly after the arrest of Barbee, Berry and Merrell, Ratigan and his family fled their rural North Idaho home and were living near Colville shortly before his arrest March 13.

“The evidence against Ratigan and the others involved in the July 12 incidents would be the same - they’re related, and that’s why we believe these defendants should be tried together,” Connelly said.

Ratigan is not accused of involvement in the April 1, 1996, bombing of the Valley office of The Spokesman-Review, or the robbery that day of the same U.S. Bank branch.

The new indictment accuses all four men of conspiracy to rob banks, use bombs to destroy buildings used in interstate commerce and to use firearms during the crimes.

Merrell, Barbee and Berry are each named in nine counts: conspiracy, two counts of armed bank robbery, three counts of bombing, and three counts of using dangerous weapons during crimes of violence.

Ratigan is charged with conspiracy, one bombing count, armed bank robbery and two counts of using dangerous weapons during crimes of violence.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo



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