Calling himself an “ambassador to Yahweh,” Verne Jay Merrell told jurors Tuesday that banks, abortion and immoral laws are about to destroy the United States.
The bombing suspect testified that he doesn’t follow the country’s rules, carries weapons at God’s request and considers charging interest on borrowed money a crime punishable by death.
But Merrell denied he and two other Sandpoint men committed bombings and robberies in the Spokane Valley last year.
When they were arrested last October in stolen vehicles crammed with illegal weapons, the suspects had just been planning to warn employees of a Portland bank about Armageddon, Merrell said.
But when asked during cross-examination if he would have killed any cops who tried to stop him, Merrell said, “I don’t know.”
Merrell, 51, Charles H. Barbee, 45, and Robert S. Berry, 42, are on trial charged with bombing Valley offices of The Spokesman-Review, Planned Parenthood and U.S. Bank, and twice robbing the bank last April and July.
Late Tuesday, Barbee and Berry hadn’t decided if they would testify this morning in U.S. District Court. Regardless, defense attorneys are expected to rest their case this afternoon.
In three hours of bizarre testimony Tuesday, Merrell kept a Bible at his fingertips and referred to it often - once to explain why he carried guns.
“The words of my King tell me that He expects me to be armed in this world,” Merrell said.
The defendant also testified that he couldn’t follow certain laws. “The system of laws in the United States are at a direct variance with the laws of my Creator,” he said.
Merrell told jurors he left an Arizona nuclear engineering job with a six-figure salary to teach classes on the U.S. Constitution in 1985. Two years later, he moved to a trailer north of Sandpoint.
“My Father said, ‘Get out of Babylon, I’m going to burn it down.’ I did. Now I live on a mountaintop.”
The jury, he said, has been misled about its duty and the state of the world.
“Who on this jury has a child with a future he can look forward to?” Merrell asked.
Prosecutors contend Merrell, Berry and Barbee are white separatists who fancy themselves “Phineas Priests” - a reference to a biblical hero who killed an Israelite man and a foreign woman after they slept together.
That can’t be true, Merrell said Tuesday, because he descended from a different tribe of Israel.
“Phineas was from Levi,” Merrell said. “I’m from the tribe of Judah.”
But he testified that the biblical hero was justified in murdering the mixed-race couple.
“Phineas had the office and the authority to carry out the act,” Merrell said.
Asked during cross-examination if killing could be justified by God, Merrell replied, “That depends.”
He bristled when Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Lister asked the same question later.
“The people who did the killing at Waco and Ruby Ridge were the government,” he said. “Ask them if it’s justified.”
Merrell said documents seized from his computer that are nearly identical to notes left at the scene of an April 1 bombing were given to him at the 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff by a Neo-Nazi skinhead named “Spider.”
He said he later sat down at his computer and typed in the documents.
FBI agents last fall followed the three suspects from Sandpoint as they drove to a U.S. Bank branch in Portland. The agents called ahead and had the bank lock its doors, then watched the trio drive around it for 15 minutes before leaving. The men were arrested later that day in Union Gap, Wash.
During cross-examination Tuesday, Merrell played word games when asked about the stolen van he was driving that day.
“You stole a Ford Aerostar van, didn’t you?” Lister asked.
“Well, you could look at it that way,” Merrell said, smiling.
“Are you telling this jury that Yahweh made it appear, and you were suddenly driving it?”
“That’s not what I said,” Merrell snapped.
Merrell explained that under the Fifth Commandment stealing refers to taking property belonging to someone else.
When the suspects stole cars, “nobody was hurt,” he said, because they were owned by “a dealership, an artificial entity known as a corporation.”
Lister reminded Merrell that the dealership was owned by a human being.
“He lost nothing,” Merrell said. “He was insured.”
Merrell also said the Old Testament decries “usury” - interest charged on loans - as a crime punishable by death.
Asked if the Bible justified stealing money from banks because they were “usurers,” Merrell said there would be no point.
“They can steal idols (paper money) if they want, but as far as I’m concerned, they’re worthless,” he said.
Merrell said he didn’t use banks and hadn’t stepped inside one in 15 years.
In other testimony Tuesday, a Coeur d’Alene coin dealer said informant Christopher Davidson was impeached as vice president of a coin club for lying, “dereliction of duty” and because he tried to sell the coin dealer a 50-caliber mounted machine gun and a bazooka.
In the afternoon, defense attorneys called a blue jeans specialist to refute evidence from an FBI photography expert that Barbee’s jeans were worn during the April 1 robbery.
The specialist: Michael Perrow, a 21-year-old Gonzaga University sophomore, who buys used jeans at thrift stores and sells them overseas.
Merrell, Barbee and Berry are charged with a dozen felonies and face life imprisonment and up to $3 million in fines if convicted.
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MEMO: See related story under the headline: Bombing suspect has trouble taking oath