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Grand jury is expected to hear case against MLK bomb suspect today

Federal investigators will present their case against Kevin W. Harpham today to a grand jury in the hopes of obtaining an indictment that will formally charge the Colville man with placing the bomb along the planned route of the Unity March on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Mike Ormsby, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, said he did not know when the case will be presented or when to expect a decision from grand jurors. “It will be their decision, not ours,” he said. “We hope to have an indictment before” a hearing scheduled for Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno.

Harpham, 36, currently faces the charges of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and unauthorized possession of an unregistered explosive device. Federal agents raided his home south of Colville on March 9 after a bomb was discovered on Jan. 17 at the northeast corner of Washington Street and Main Avenue. However, all information about how they identified Harpham as a suspect has been sealed.

Roger Peven, executive director of Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho, is representing Harpham opposite Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Harrington, who will serve as lead prosecutor in the case.

Peven and Harrington previously faced each other in 1997 during the trial of three white supremacists convicted of a series of bombings and bank robberies that federal investigators characterized as acts of domestic terrorism, inspired by extremist religious beliefs.

In that case, a jury convicted Charles H. Barbee, Verne Jay Merrell and Robert S. Berry, all formerly of Sandpoint, of the April 1, 1996, bombings at a local branch of U.S. Bank and the Spokane Valley office of The Spokesman-Review after “they couldn’t find the (Spokesman office) downtown,” Peven said.

“Joe is highly skilled and professional,” Peven said of Harrington. “We try to be collegial. We are not antagonistic toward each other. Maybe tomorrow, but not today.”

As for the case against Harpham, who authored more than 1,000 postings to a racist website, Peven said he’s just getting started.

“It’s a serious case that I look forward to getting the information and getting to work on with my team,” he said.

Peven – who also worked for a time as the defense attorney for convicted mass murderer Joseph Duncan – supervises seven other attorneys in the Spokane office and five in the Yakima office of federal public defenders. Many of those defense attorneys will play a role, but he also said he expects Kim Deater and Kailey Moran will play major roles in Harpham’s defense.

Harpham’s father, Cecil Harpham, of Kettle Falls, recently granted interviews with KXLY TV in which he claimed that his son was with him when the bomb was discovered. Peven said he’s aware of those comments but has not yet “substantially” explored them.

“The first time our preparation … begins will be receiving information from the government once the indictment is reached,” he said. “These are serious charges. The government has the time it needs to charge someone … in the front end. We may need the time on the back end.”