Prosecutors on Tuesday tried to recast Spokane Valley bombing suspect Charles Barbee as an unemployed white separatist in need of quick cash - a terrorist who used religion to further his schemes.
During cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Harrington stressed Barbee couldn’t produce an alibi to substantiate claims that he was home when the crimes were committed.
And while defense attorneys portrayed Barbee as a child of a broken home raised by grandparents - a Catholic boy turned religious zealot who happened to fancy weapons - Harrington tried immediately to refocus the jury’s picture of Barbee.
Harrington’s first question: “Your grandparents didn’t teach you to steal cars?”
“No,” Barbee said.
“And you didn’t learn to make hand grenades as an altar boy, did you?”
In his second day on the witness stand, the defendant bickered with the prosecutor over Barbee’s religious beliefs and whether his fledgling military surplus business was a front for crime.
Harrington asked him to produce receipts or account ledgers or advertisements, but Barbee couldn’t. Harrington also demanded that Barbee name the people to whom he sold surplus gear.
“It’s none of your business who I sold to,” Barbee snapped.
“I think it’s the jury’s business,” Harrington said.
Asked a second time, Barbee again refused to answer.
“That’s because you can’t give us a detailed customer list,” Harrington said.
“It’s because I won’t,” Barbee said.
Barbee, 45; Robert Berry, 43; and Verne Jay Merrell, 51, are in their second trial in U.S. District Court on charges of bombing Valley offices of The Spokesman-Review, Planned Parenthood and U.S. Bank, and twice robbing the bank in April and July 1996.
Their first trial ended in a hung jury earlier this year, when one juror refused to convict on the most serious charges. Barbee did not testify in that trial.
Prosecutors contend the trio wanted only to look like surplus dealers so they could explain how they made their money.
About $100,000 was taken and never recovered from the two robberies.
Defense attorneys maintain the men were real dealers, but poor businessmen.
Tuesday, Barbee was asked by Harrington to recall a secretly recorded conversation, during which a government informant suggested ways the men could look more “legitimate.” Barbee responded on tape that it seemed like a good idea.
Asked what he meant by that, Barbee told jurors the informant’s suggestions had made sense.
“It made sense to me, too,” Harrington said, earning a reprimand from the judge.
Barbee also clarified some of his unusual religious convictions Tuesday.
As Merrell did in the earlier trial, Barbee called himself an ambassador of Yahweh and said God occasionally manifests himself in people.
“He could manifest himself through you, right?” Harrington asked.
“Or through you,” Barbee shot back.
Barbee also said usury - the charging of interest - is a crime, but only between Israelites.
“Israelites can’t charge Israelites interest, but they can charge strangers interest,” Barbee said.
And Barbee said Phineas - a biblical figure who killed an Israelite man after he slept with a foreign woman - was justified in murdering the mixed-race couple.
“He was given an everlasting priesthood,” Barbee said.
Merrell is expected to testify later this week. It’s not clear if Berry plans to testify.
The three men are charged with eight felonies and could face life in prison if convicted. The defense expects to rest its case this week.