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Friday, June 5, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Fbi’s Work Challenged By Defense Agents Describe Items Found In Cars Of Bombing Suspects

By Craig Welch And Kim Barker S Staff writer

There was no Phineas found, and photo lineups weren’t shown to witnesses.

Defense lawyers on Thursday tried to distance clients Charles Barbee, Robert Berry and Verne Jay Merrell from a spree of violence in the Spokane Valley last year.

During cross-examination of FBI agent David Bedford, the defense poked at the agency’s handling of the case and suggested important leads weren’t followed.

Merrell’s lawyer, Frank Conklin, pointed out that no evidence bearing the Phineas Priesthood symbol was seized from any of the defendants, except for a book. Letters signed with the symbol were sent to bombing and robbery victims.

Lawyers also hinted that the FBI didn’t follow up leads regarding the Aryan Nations, skinhead youths claiming to be Phineas Priests and a composite robber sketch that defense lawyers believe is star prosecution witness Christopher Davidson Jr.

Bedford said all the leads were followed, trickling into nothing. He said Davidson had not been placed at any of the crimes.

When asked why witnesses weren’t asked to pick the robbers out of photo lineups, Bedford said it wasn’t practical.

“We just didn’t feel like it would be useful, because they’d already seen the pictures in the paper,” Bedford said.

Barbee, Berry and Merrell are in their second trial on charges of bombing Valley offices of The Spokesman-Review, Planned Parenthood and U.S. Bank, and twice robbing the bank on April 1 and July 12, 1996.

The first trial ended in a hung jury two months ago, when one juror refused to convict on the most serious charges.

FBI agents spent part of Wednesday and most of Thursday identifying items seized from the three vehicles driven by the trio at the time of their Oct. 8 arrest in Oregon.

Agents found grenades, a machine gun, loaded rifles, revolvers and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, FBI agent Andy Caster told jurors.

The vehicles also were stuffed with bulletproof vests, military-style camouflage helmets, fatigue clothing, radio equipment and gas masks.

A pair of Scott ski goggles similar to those worn by a robber inside the bank on April 1 also were seized.

Merrell’s vehicle included a Bible in which several references to “the Lord,” were crossed out. The word “Yahweh” was handwritten in the margins.

They found a cassette of a sermon by Christian Identity preacher Pete Peters titled “The War on Whoredom,” a tirade on the state of society, Caster said. They also found fake Oregon driver’s licenses.

Barbee, Berry and Merrell are charged with eight felonies and could face up to life imprisonment without parole if convicted.

Prosecutors expect to call two dozen more witnesses before resting their case Wednesday or Thursday. Defense attorneys say they will call 35 to 40 witnesses, compared with 12 during the last trial.

, DataTimes

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