Barbee Confessed, Says New Witness Bombing Suspect’s Former Friend Is Himself Awaiting Trial On Weapons Charges
Months after the Spokane Valley bombings and robberies, suspect Charles Barbee boasted “we got those boogers twice” to a jailed Montana friend, a government informant testified Monday.
Dennis Stucker, a Darby, Mont., farmer who had worked for AT&T; with Barbee in Florida, said Barbee visited him in jail last August and mouthed the admission through the visiting room’s bulletproof glass.
Barbee also drew a circle with his hands, indicating a bomb, and said he had “new leads” in Oregon for his “business,” Stucker said.
Stucker took the opaque statements as coded confessions of the April 1 and July 12, 1996, crimes in the Valley and a planned bank robbery in Portland.
“My understanding was that him and others were involved in delivering a bomb for diversion and robbing a bank in Spokane,” Stucker told the U.S. District Court jury.
But defense attorneys suggested Stucker, who is awaiting trial on federal weapons charges, came forward in hopes of getting leniency.
They painted Stucker as a mentally unstable alcoholic and criminal whose friends and neighbors make up a Who’s Who of Northwest anti-government radicals.
Stucker was charged with obstructing justice in 1995 for allegedly helping fugitive and anti-government activist Calvin Greenup flee Montana. Greenup was accused of plotting to kill a Montana judge and sheriff.
Stucker has been arrested twice since, both times for violating probation by illegally possessing weapons. One of the weapons was a machine gun.
Barbee, 45; Robert S. Berry, 43; and Verne Jay Merrell, 51, are in their second trial on charges of bombing Valley offices of The Spokesman-Review and Planned Parenthood and twice robbing a U.S. Bank branch.
Their first trial ended in a hung jury in April when one juror refused to convict the trio on the most serious charges.
Stucker didn’t testify in that trial and admitted hiding Barbee’s confession in the Ravalli County, Mont., jail from FBI agents when they interviewed him last year.
“I told them exactly the truth, but I didn’t elaborate,” Stucker said. “I was fearful for my life and for my wife and child’s life.”
Stucker came forward earlier this month, he said, because he’d become a born-again Christian.
The witness testified about a 13-year friendship with the Barbee family that began in Florida, recalling vacations to Belize and trips to the Northwest.
Stucker said he settled in Montana shortly before Barbee moved to Sandpoint, Idaho, because he liked the people and the open spaces. He called his Darby home “Old McDonald’s Farm,” a tiny spread where he and his wife Verla tended sheep, cows, horses and chickens.
When he first read newspaper accounts of the Valley crimes last year, Stucker said, he thought of his old Florida friend Barbee.
“The newspaper said there were leaflets that mentioned Yahweh and Yashua,” Stucker said. “I knew his religion and that he used those words.”
Barbee is a follower of Christian Identity, a white-separatist religion based on unusual Old Testament interpretations - a theology Stucker said he doesn’t share.
Stucker said Barbee called a few days after the April 1 bombing and said “business” was great - a statement that convinced Stucker that Barbee was involved in the Valley terrorism spree.
“On numerous occasions in Florida, he (Barbee) said that if he ever had to feed his family, he’d go so far as to rob a bank,” Stucker said.
During cross-examination, defense attorneys brought out the fact that Stucker suffered a nervous breakdown in Florida, and suggested he moved to Montana because it was a hotbed of anti-government activity. They grilled him over his failure to come forward earlier.
“It’s just a coincidence that you found God when the government charged you with 11 felony counts?” asked defense attorney Roger Peven, who represents Barbee.
Attorney Frank Conklin, representing Merrell, ended Stucker’s interrogation with a pointed question.
“Would it surprise you to learn that the word ‘Yashua’ didn’t appear in any of the documents left at the bombing scenes?”
“Yes sir, it would,” Stucker answered. “But the paper, sometimes you can’t trust what it says.”
Retorted Conklin: “Sometimes that’s true about witnesses, too.”
Barbee, Berry and Merrell are charged with eight felonies and face life imprisonment if convicted on all counts.
Testimony resumes today from the government’s star witness - former Idaho gun dealer Christopher Davidson Jr.