March 26, 1997 in Nation/World

Bombing Suspect Has Trouble Taking Oath

By The Spokesman-Review
 

For lack of a simple “I do,” Verne Jay Merrell almost didn’t.

Merrell nearly missed a chance to testify in his own defense Tuesday morning because he refused to swear “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God.”

When called to the stand, Merrell told U.S. District Judge Frem Nielsen he wouldn’t “forswear” to any court his God considered unlawful.

“I do not recognize your laws,” Merrell said in front of the jury. “I recognize the laws of my creator.”

Citing the Bible’s Ninth Commandment, Merrell agreed only to “not bear false witness.”

When Nielsen asked the accused domestic terrorist if he understood he could be charged with perjury if he lied, Merrell refused to say “I do.”

Rejecting the defendant as a witness, Nielsen told his attorney, Aaron Lowe, to call someone else.

But Lowe’s next witness was off the stand in minutes, leaving only Merrell’s co-defendants, Charles Barbee or Robert Berry.

“If we call any other witnesses, we’d basically have the same problem,” another defense attorney, John Rodgers, told the judge.

Nielsen called a recess.

Defense attorneys pleaded with Merrell to cooperate, while Berry and Barbee huddled over them, whispering. Fifteen minutes later, they called the judge back - without the jury - for a test.

This time, Nielsen simply asked if Merrell would tell the truth.

“I will speak the truth as I know it,” Merrell said. “My yeas will be yeas and my nays will be nays.”

Nielsen shook his head and said that wasn’t a clear answer.

“To some people telling the truth is saying what they need to say,” he said.

After lunch, Merrell and the court settled on an alternative.

“I’ll tell the truth to the best of my ability as given me by my creator,” Merrell said.

Nielsen reminded him of the penalties for perjury, but this time didn’t ask for a response.

, DataTimes MEMO: See related story under the headline: Suspect denies bombings, robberies

See related story under the headline: Suspect denies bombings, robberies


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