Robert Berry told jurors Wednesday he couldn’t have terrorized the Spokane Valley: During one set of bombings and robberies, he was driving to Michigan; during another, he was hosting two co-defendants at his North Idaho home.
Berry repeatedly denied involvement in last year’s crime spree and said the government’s key informant claimed to have robbed banks before.
Before the bombings, Berry said he sold the informant, former military surplus dealer Christopher Davidson Jr., a distinctive shotgun, like one federal agents identified from bank surveillance-camera footage.
Prosecutors - portraying Berry as a liar - stressed that the Sandpoint white separatist couldn’t explain why he was cash-starved in early 1996, after claiming he had made $100,000 at his auto repair shop in each of the previous two years.
And after previously testifying that he stole a pickup truck in southern Idaho for his brother, Berry admitted during cross-examination to wanting the truck himself so he could put the new engine in his own pickup.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Rice is expected to finish questioning Berry this morning.
Berry, 43, Charles Barbee, 45, and Verne Jay Merrell, 51, are charged with bombing Valley offices of The Spokesman-Review, Planned Parenthood and a U.S. Bank branch, and twice robbing the bank on April 1 and July 12, 1996.
Their first trial ended last spring in a hung jury on the bombing and robbery charges.
Berry, who didn’t testify in that trial, is the second defendant to take the witness stand in this U.S. District Court trial, following Barbee. Merrell is expected testify today.
Berry was jittery and stuttered often Wednesday as his words spilled out. He frequently turned to look at the jury after answering direct questions about the crimes.
Berry told the court he denounced the government and sought self-sufficiency after Randy Weaver’s 1992 siege on Ruby Ridge and the deadly 1993 confrontation in Waco, Texas.
“It was one of those paradigm shifts,” Berry said. “My religious views were getting solidified, and I realized the people who were getting attacked had views like mine.”
After that, Berry said, he quit paying taxes, began carrying illegal weapons and fake identification and opened out-of-state bank accounts under fake names.
“They (government) want to know everybody and where they are and what they’re doing, and we wanted ways to defeat that - to disengage.”
Berry told jurors that when he was arrested in Kelso, Wash., in 1995, he was carrying beer bottles stuffed with Styrofoam. He’d intended to make Molotov cocktails and throw them at military vehicles, if he encountered any, he said.
“Did you expect to get attacked by a tank in Kelso?” Rice asked.
“You just never know anymore when you’re going to get attacked by a tank,” Berry said.
“What would happen after you threw it at the tank?”
“Probably the tank would shoot you,” Berry answered.
A day before the April 1 bombing, Berry said he and his family began a slow, 2,100-mile drive to visit brothers in Rochester, Mich.
He said he took a meandering route that led him through Western Montana and along Interstate 25 through Wyoming to Denver. He stopped to look around in Gillette, a tiny city in northeast Wyoming, he said.
The spring trip also led the family through Omaha, Neb., where Berry said his daughter played in a motel pool with a water slide.
Berry’s brothers have testified that he arrived in Michigan on April 3.
Prosecutors contend Berry fled the Northwest immediately following the April 1 crimes, driving through the night to reach Michigan - and produce a phony alibi.
The morning of July 12, Berry said he took his family to the Bonner County Courthouse, where his teenage son was facing a traffic ticket.
His son refused to “recognize the court’s jurisdiction,” and the usually routine hearing dragged on. After that, Berry said he treated the family to lunch.
“It was a pretty big deal - my son’s first time in court,” Berry said. “It was kind of a special day, in a way.”
That afternoon, while Planned Parenthood was being bombed, Berry said Merrell and friend Brian Rattigan came to visit. They wanted to find out how Berry’s son fared in court.
Rattigan also is charged with participating in that day’s crime but is being tried separately in September.
Closing arguments are expected to begin Friday or Monday.
Berry, Barbee and Merrell are charged with eight felonies and face mandatory life sentences if convicted.