January 31, 1997 in Nation/World

Bomb Suspects Can Be Forced To Comply Federal Judge Denies Defense Request For Change Of Venue

By The Spokesman-Review

The FBI can use “reasonable force” to take full-body photographs of the three suspects in the Spokane Valley bombings and bank robberies.

Agents also can use force to get height and weight measurements of Robert S. Berry, 42; Charles H. Barbee, 44; and Verne Jay Merrell, 51, all of Sandpoint.

While granting those requests of federal prosecutors, U.S. District Judge Frem Nielsen rejected defense calls to move the trial to another city.

The judge postponed the start of the trial from Feb. 10 to Feb. 18 to give lawyers more preparation time.

Between now and then, a team of federal investigators will attempt to determine whether the three men had anything to do with the bombing last July 27 at the Olympics.

The North Idaho men are not considered suspects in the unsolved bombing in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park which occurred 15 days after the last Spokane bombing.

But the FBI is looking at evidence, including the identification of Berry by an Atlanta architect and his daughter who saw a stranger carrying a backpack outside the Olympic park. The architect drew a composite sketch that resembles Berry.

FBI agents assigned to a 100-member Olympics bombing task force are in Spokane, and a Justice Department official said “there’s a flurry of activity under way.”

Investigators reportedly are comparing the bombs used in Spokane and Atlanta.

Defense attorneys for Berry, Barbee and Merrell said their clients couldn’t possibly be involved in the Atlanta bombing that killed one woman and injured 111 people.

“The media are on a roll, and they’re out to persecute the next victim,” Barbee’s wife, Carolyn, told Fox News.

“They did it to Randy Weaver and they did it to Richard Jewell,” she said, “and I feel that if my husband is acquitted, what will happen to our lives?”

Carolyn Barbee said she and her husband were at their Sagle, Idaho, home on the night of the Olympics bombing and watched television coverage.

As for telephone records showing calls to her home about that time, she told Fox News that her husband has children from a previous marriage who live in the Atlanta area.

“I feel it is very unfair and unjust,” she said. “I think they’re going to make it very hard for us to have any kind of normal life.”

She and her young son sat in the back row of the courtroom as the judge heard pre-trial motions. He gave defense attorneys until Feb. 7 to decide if they’re going to use alibi defenses and argue that their clients were elsewhere when the Valley bombings occurred last April and July.

On April 1, a bomb exploded at the Valley office of The Spokesman-Review, moments before a nearby U.S. Bank branch was bombed and robbed. On July 12, the same bank was robbed just after a bomb exploded at a Planned Parenthood office.

The judge said defense attorneys could renew their request to move the trial after questioning of potential jurors from throughout Eastern Washington.

Berry, Barbee and Merrell have been in jail without bond since Oct. 8 when they were arrested near Yakima and charged with the Spokane bombings and robberies.

After Thursday’s 90-minute hearing, defense attorneys were swarmed by members of the media outside the U.S. Courthouse.

“The media will find out quite quickly that our clients weren’t involved with the Atlanta bombing,” said federal defender Roger Peven, who represents Barbee.

Defense attorney John Rodgers was asked questions about his client, Berry, whose jail booking photo resembles a sketch of a stranger seen just before the Olympics bombing.

Asked where his client was that day, Rodgers said: “I’d like to know. He’s not charged with that crime.”

When he was asked if Berry has ever been to Georgia, Rodgers said: “I probably won’t seek the answer to that question.”

The North Idaho informant who led the FBI to the men said he sold them a backpack like the one that exploded at the Olympics. He also said they asked how to wash fingerprints off the backpack and how to make a time-delayed ignition device for pipe bombs.

Three pipe bombs hidden in a military backpack exploded July 27 at the AT&T; Global World exhibit in Centennial Olympic Park. That was 15 days after the second Spokane bank robbery and a bombing at a Planned Parenthood clinic.

In court, the judge said he will allow FBI agents to use “reasonable force” to take photographs and measurements of the defendants. “No assaults, no drugs, nothing intrusive,” the judge said. Attorneys will be present.

Peven said Barbee doesn’t intend to peacefully comply.

“Is that a threat?” the judge asked.

Peven said the issue may again be raised in court.

If the defendants don’t willingly give handwriting samples to the FBI, the judge said he may be required to give jurors an instruction relating to the defendants’ “consciousness of guilt.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 Color)

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