A militia member testified Tuesday that neither his group nor Spokane’s bombing suspects desire to overthrow the government, as prosecutors contend.
They trained with weapons only for self-defense, said Delbert Hathaway, a 58-year-old Sandpoint barber.
Hathaway declined to say definitively whether defendants Verne Jay Merrell, 51, and Robert S. Berry, 42, had been photographed with him for “The Ragged Edge,” a 1995 Spokesman-Review series examining the region’s anti-government movement.
The testimony from the prosecution’s witness is significant because prosecutors contend Merrell, Berry and co-defendant Charles Barbee bombed the newspaper’s Valley office last spring as an angry warning not to reveal them as members of a secret militia group.
Pictures taken for the newspaper series showed a half-dozen men dressed head to toe in camouflage, their faces covered by masks. In an accompanying story, the men were identified only by number.
Hathaway admitted Merrell and Berry might have been with him, but the witness would not say for sure. He testified that Barbee was there, but not masked.
Hathaway said 20 heavily armed militiamen had attended a “dress rehearsal” for the photo session two weeks earlier. Any of them could have been in the pictures, he said.
In addition to the defendants, between 50 and 200 Sandpoint residents shared his Christian Identity beliefs, Hathaway said.
“It’s the basic Identity message - that we are the true Israelites and beware of those who call themselves Jews and are not,” he said.
Defense attorneys said in their opening statements last week that so many people shared their clients’ beliefs there’s no telling who committed the bombings and robberies.
Since two of the defendants wore masks, goggles and gloves during the crimes, eyewitnesses aren’t expected to place them at the scene.
Earlier in the day, Spokesman-Review reporter Bill Morlin testified that the masked men never told him their names. He refused to reveal who drove him to the secret training ground near Sandpoint. But Morlin testified that after a related story about Barbee was published in the same series, Barbee expressed no anger at him or the newspaper.
Morlin also said Barbee told him his life changed after Randy Weaver’s 1992 siege at Ruby Ridge. Barbee and Weaver shared similar religious, white separatist beliefs, Morlin said.
“Did he believe people with his religious beliefs were a target of the government?” defense attorney John Rodgers asked.
“I believe that was exactly his point,” Morlin said.
Rodgers also used Hathaway to suggest Merrell could not have built two car bombs placed inside stolen vans linked to the bombings and robberies. Neither bomb worked as planned.
During cross-examination, Hathaway described Merrell, a former nuclear engineer, as a genius with a near-photographic memory who could accomplish anything.
Rodgers asked: “If Mr. Merrell were to build a bomb … would it go off?”
“I imagine it would, yes,” Hathaway said.