Brian Ratigan led a “prayer meeting” of friends last year who discussed breaking three domestic terrorists out of the Spokane County Jail, a federal court jury was told Tuesday.
Loren Berry said the impromptu meeting was held in North Idaho shortly after the arrests last Oct. 8 of three Sandpoint men on bombing and robbery charges.
Prosecutors say Ratigan, now on trial in U.S. District Court, was the fourth member of the white separatist, terrorist group.
Charles Barbee, Verne Jay Merrell and Berry’s brother, Robert S. Berry, already have been convicted of two bank robberies and three bombings for the Spokane Valley attacks.
Loren Berry said the gathering occurred at an octagon-shaped cabin on Rapid Lightning Creek Road, north of Sandpoint, belonging to his girlfriend, Sharon Cohen.
“A lot of the conversation was about breaking Chuck, Rob and Jay out of jail in Spokane,” he said during questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Rice.
Also present were Ratigan’s wife, Tina; Ernie Nicholson and his sons, Nick and Dave Nicholson; Brad and Warren Day; Loren Berry’s sister-in-law, Judy Berry, and her two children, Berry testified.
“They were afraid of being arrested also,” Berry told the jury.
He recalled asking the others to quit talking about planning a jailbreak, and the discussion went no further. Later, he said, Ratigan called him aside.
“He told me he was the fourth guy the FBI was looking for,” Berry testified.
Two days before the October arrests, Loren Berry, Robert Berry, Barbee, Merrell and their families had concluded a week-long religious campout called the “Feast of the Tabernacles.”
“All we did is cook, eat and read the Old Testament,” Loren Berry testified.
During the camp-out, a dispute broke out after Barbee admonished Ratigan for serving his wife a cup of coffee.
Barbee referred to the wives as “cows” who should be subservient to their husbands, Loren Berry said.
Later, because of the flare-up, Ratigan was told he wouldn’t accompany the other three men on a forthcoming trip to Portland where they planned another bank robbery, Loren Berry said.
Ratigan had gone to Portland on an earlier surveillance trip during which he spotted an armored car unloading $3 million to $4 million at the bank, Berry testified.
Ratigan’s mother, Jayne Tillotson, also testified against her son Tuesday.
The jury was shown an edited copy of a letter mailed in June to Tillotson by her son from jail. She turned the letter over to the FBI, despite his written orders.
“If you live by God’s laws and ways, you will be a criminal to man,” Ratigan says in the letter. “If you live by man’s laws and ways, you are a criminal to God, Yahweh the Father.”
The letter said white Christians like Ratigan, who consider themselves the true Israelites, are at war with “evil and treasonous” forces promoting the New World Order.
Tillotson looked at her son from the witness stand, appearing on the verge of tears. But he never seemed to look back.
Earlier, Ratigan stared at Loren Berry as he testified.
Loren Berry met Ratigan in June 1996 at America’s Promise Ministries, a Sandpoint-area church that preaches white separatism, Berry testified.
Ratigan was arrested in Spokane on March 13, midway through the first trial of Robert Berry, Barbee and Merrell.
FBI agents caught him with an assault-rifle similar to one used by masked robbers during the July 12 robbery of a U.S. Bank branch.
But the FBI has found little additional physical evidence linking Ratigan to the July 12, 1996, bombing of a Planned Parenthood clinic or the bank robbery of a U.S. Bank Branch a few minutes later.
So the backbone of the prosecution’s case are statements he reportedly made to Berry and Warren Day, who is scheduled to testify today.