SALEM – A father and son were convicted Wednesday of planting a bank bomb that killed two police officers in a botched robbery that prosecutors said was motivated by plans to build a militia in case newly elected President Barack Obama cracked down on their gun rights.
A Marion County Circuit Court jury deliberated for less than five hours before finding both Bruce Turnidge and his son, Joshua Turnidge, guilty on all 18 counts, which included aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder and assault charges.
Both stood silently as Judge Tom Hart read the verdicts. The convictions send the trial into a penalty phase that would begin today, when the jury will decide whether to send the men to death row.
Other sentencing options include life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years or a life sentence with no parole.
Kelly Mix, a brother-in-law of one of the officers killed, Woodburn Police Capt. Tom Tennant, said he was pleased with the verdict but not surprised.
“For us, it doesn’t change the fact that my brother-in-law is dead,” Mix told the Oregonian. “I’m not opposed to the death penalty if the jury thinks that’s the right punishment.”
The homemade bomb exploded at the West Coast Bank in Woodburn less than two weeks before Christmas 2008, killing a police bomb technician who was trying to dismantle it, as well as Tennant, who was helping. The town’s police chief, Scott Russell, lost a leg in the explosion, which authorities say was part of an attempt to rob the bank.
Prosecutors had presented evidence that the Turnidges harbored fantasies of building bombs, robbing banks and starting a militia. They hatched the bank robbery plan because they needed money to keep their biodiesel company afloat, prosecutors said.
Witnesses testified that Bruce Turnidge, who grew up in a prominent farming family in the Willamette Valley but could not make a go of farming himself, wanted to live in a tent city with people who shared his political beliefs but couldn’t get money to build an arms stockpile for a militia.
According to testimony, father and son exulted in the Oklahoma City bombing, and Bruce Turnidge viewed Timothy McVeigh as a hero. Prosecutors also said both men believed the Obama administration would crack down on their right to own guns.
Bruce Turnidge did not take the stand, but family members denied he hated police or held extremist political views.
The father and son turned against each other during the trial, but their lawyers came together to throw the blame for detonating the blast on state police bomb technician William Hakim, who mistakenly identified the green-painted metal box as a hoax. Prosecutors argued that a stray radio signal, perhaps from a passing trucker, activated a remote-controlled device that triggered the bomb.
Prosecutors presented evidence that the Turnidges planted the bomb outside the West Coast Bank, then phoned in a threat to a bank next door, where they had left a phone and garbage bags to handle their demands for money.
Joshua Turnidge testified that he bought two cell phones and materials used to build the bomb without knowing his father planned to use them to rob a bank.
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