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Friday, June 5, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Suspect Can’t Prove Whereabouts Berry, One Of 3 Men On Trial In Blasts And Robberies, Offers No Records To Back Claim

Robert Berry offered no proof Thursday that he was traveling during the first of last year’s Spokane Valley bombings and robberies.

On Wednesday, Berry told jurors he was driving to Michigan on April 1, 1996, when The Spokesman-Review and a nearby U.S. Bank branch were bombed. The bank also was robbed.

But during cross-examination Thursday, Berry admitted he had no hotel records, receipts or witnesses to support his story.

“We don’t have a single piece of evidence that would corroborate your alibi of where you were, do we?” asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Rice.

“I don’t think so,” Berry said. “I wish I did.”

Verne Jay Merrell was the last of the three accused bombers to take the stand Thursday. Following his cross-examination by prosecutors today, the defense is expected to rest.

Berry, 43, Merrell, 51, and Charles Barbee, 45, are in their second trial on charges they committed the April 1 crimes, then bombed the Valley Planned Parenthood office and robbed the same bank on July 12, 1996. The robberies netted about $110,000, none of which has been recovered.

The Sandpoint white separatists’ first trial ended last spring in a hung jury, with one juror refusing to convict the defendants on the most serious charges.

The anti-government rebels refer to themselves as “Ambassadors of Yahweh,” a Hebrew word for God, and have said they consider themselves targets of a government at war with its citizens.

The defendants claim they were set up by key government informant Christopher Davidson Jr., a military surplus dealer, and contend Davidson made up most statements he attributes to them. The trio also accuses Davidson of frequently selling them illegal weapons.

Much of Berry’s cross-examination Thursday focused on how he made enough money, beginning in April 1996, to move his family out of his Sandpoint truck repair shop and into a nice house with new furniture.

At that time, Berry said he was either hard up for money or carrying $5,000 in cash in his pants pocket. He told jurors money came in spurts from several “big projects”: buying and reselling a $14,000 forklift; doing $10,000 in repair work to a ‘50s-vintage Willy’s station wagon; and selling three guns for $1,175.

When pressed by Rice, however, Berry was unable to name any of the buyers. Berry refused to name the people to whom he gave 15 handgrenade fuses he said were sold to him illegally by Davidson.

After Rice reminded Berry that his landlord testified from his own records that Berry paid $2,450 in rent on July 13, 1996 - the day after the second bombing and robbery - Berry insisted the records must be wrong.

Berry also testified that it wasn’t until mid- or late-September that he, Barbee and Merrell decided to pull an aborted “publicity stunt” - deemed a foiled third bank robbery by prosecutors - at a Portland bank last fall. Davidson told FBI agent David Bedford in early September about the plans.

“In other words,” Rice asked the witness, “Chris Davidson was psychic when he told agent Bedford on Sept. 6 that your next trip was to Portland?”

Berry also appeared to contradict a co-defendant’s testimony.

Barbee said earlier this week that he blacked out the strap on ski goggles before the Portland trip because he didn’t want surveillance cameras to pick up the brand name - Scott.

The same brand of goggles was worn by a robber in one of the Valley holdups.

But Berry testified that Barbee blacked out the strap because it was an ugly shade of neon green.

Rice questioned that logic. “He was concerned about his appearance when he was getting ready to go into a bank and drop off a letter?”

Merrell testified at length about his religious beliefs, and repeatedly denied involvement in any of the crimes.

Berry, Barbee and Merrell are each charged with eight felonies and face mandatory life sentences if convicted.

, DataTimes

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