SALEM – People who knew Bruce Turnidge and his son say they loved their guns, hated President Barack Obama and fantasized about starting a militia and a tent city in the woods for people who shared their radical beliefs.
Prosecutors say they acted on their anger at the government by planting a bomb that blew up inside a small-town bank in 2008, killing two police officers and maiming a third.
The father and son are on trial in Oregon in a case that has painted a picture of a rural underworld of hatred and resentment in which the defendants blamed their troubles on a government bent on taking their guns and freedom.
Bruce Turnidge, 58, regularly lectured anyone who would listen about the need for citizens to be armed to defend their freedom, and cheered the Oklahoma City federal building bombing, according to testimony. His son Joshua, 34, shared similar views and spoke of robbing a bank to raise the money to keep their biodiesel business afloat.
“The catalyst was the election of Barack Obama in 2008,” prosecutor Katie Suver said at the start of the trial in September.
She said both men believed the Obama administration would crack down on their rights to own guns. The attack occurred about a month after Obama was elected.
Though the two are on trial together, they have turned against each other in their defenses against aggravated murder charges that could send them to death row. Defense lawyers believe the Turnidges’ political beliefs should have no bearing on the trial and contend the bomb wouldn’t have detonated had officers not bungled the response.
Bruce Turnidge was the son of a prominent mint farmer in Oregon’s fertile Willamette Valley. He was forced to go out on his own at 18 when his father lost the farm.
Gail Lambert, who went to church with Bruce Turnidge, testified that he often sat “like a ticking time bomb” during adult Sunday school, his chin in his hand, only to erupt to loudly declare people needed to rise up and take power back from the government.
“Bruce said that Timothy McVeigh was a hero,” she testified.
Melodie Chasteen, once Joshua Turnidge’s girlfriend, told jurors that during a dinner at Bruce Turnidge’s home, father and son both exulted in news of the 1995 Oklahoma City federal building bombing that killed 168 people. She said Bruce Turnidge pumped his fist in the air and “cheered like it was a football game.”
Joshua Turnidge more than once talked about robbing a bank to bail out the business, though she never imagined it would happen, Sherwood testified.
The prosecution has finished presenting its case, and the defense began calling witnesses last week. Joshua Turnidge is expected to take the stand today.
Defense lawyers maintain the bomb never would have gone off at the West Coast bank on Dec. 12, 2008, if state police bomb technician Bill Hakim had not mistaken it for a hoax and tried to take it apart.
Hakim died, as did Woodburn police Lt. Tom Tennant. Police Chief Scott Russell lost a leg.
The son’s attorney has contended the bomb was the result of the father finally going through with one of his hare-brained schemes.
The father’s lawyer has argued the son, aware DNA evidence linked him to a cell phone left behind as part of the bomb plot, was trying to throw blame on his father.