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Charles Barbee, last of the 1996 Spokane-area bombers, resentenced; receives 55 years

UPDATED: Mon., Jan. 25, 2021

Barbee
Barbee

The last of the four white supremacists who in 1996 bombed The Spokesman-Review’s Spokane Valley office and a Planned Parenthood clinic was resentenced Monday.

Charles Barbee, 68, along with his co-conspirators, who were linked to the domestic terrorist group the Phineas Priesthood, were convicted of multiple federal crimes, including armed robbery and arson, which carry mandatory minimum prison sentences.

A 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision found that some of the statutes the men were convicted under were unconstitutionally vague about the elements of crimes that require long prison sentencing.

Barbee, who was proclaimed “rehabilitated” by U.S. District Court Judge William Fremming Nielsen, was sentenced to 55 years in prison Monday.

Nielsen also sentenced, Robert S. Berry, 68, and Verne J. Merrell, 74, to long prison terms earlier this year. Brian J. Rattigan, 61, was released with credit for time served.

Over the last year, ahead of his sentencing, Barbee has contracted COVID-19 twice, which contributed to sentencing delays, along with other factors related to the pandemic.

“I have not seen or heard anything that would suggest otherwise that the objective of rehabilitation has not been met,” Nielsen said in court.

In 1997, Nielsen presided over two trials for Barbee, totaling about nine weeks in court. Barbee admitted he was disrespectful and “ignorant” in court at the time of the “grueling” trials, but said he has since worked hard to improve himself while serving his prison sentence.

After about 16 months in prison, Barbee told Nielsen he started to have a change in his attitude. Barbee enrolled in multiple programs through the psychology department at the Bureau of Prisons facility he was at in Colorado.

The program turned Barbee into a “more contemplative person,” he said.

Ever since then, Barbee said he has been an upstanding prisoner, a fact backed up by his nearly 22 years of clean conduct and a statement of support by one of his supervisors in a prison work program.

The supervisor called into court Monday to share his support for Barbee, something the recently retired Bureau of Prisons employee said he has never done before. The supervisor described Barbee as a hard worker who went out of his way to mentor young prisoners struggling with substance abuse.

“I would be happy to have him as a neighbor if he gets out,” the supervisor said.

Barbee’s trial lawyer, Roger Peven, also spoke in support of Barbee. Peven said he believes Barbee was radicalized after events like Ruby Ridge in North Idaho and the raid in Waco, Texas. However, after years of working to become a better person in prison, Peven said he believes Barbee has changed.

“Mr. Barbee has been rehabilitated. He has a family that has stood by him,” Peven said. “I too would welcome Mr. Barbee as a neighbor.”

Barbee’s two children were in court Monday and have remained a part of their father’s life.

“He has changed and grown and evolved,” his daughter wrote in a letter to the court. “He has touched lives and made the world a better place.”

U.S. Assistant Attorney Joe Harrington reminded the court of the terror Barbee and his co-conspirator’s actions had on the Spokane community.

“How someone wasn’t maimed or killed is really remarkable,” Harrington said.

Victims of the bank robberies called the incident a “terrorist attack,” Harrington said.

While Harrington reviewed the crimes and victim statements, Barbee looked down before staring pointedly at the blank courtroom wall, blinking frequently.

“I caused a lot of anguish and fear,” Barbee said. “I don’t know why I didn’t understand then, but I do now.”

Barbee apologized to the victims of his crimes and to his family in court Monday.

“I realize that my remorse and sorrows are only a small comfort to the victims,” he said.

Judge Nielsen admitted he was “frustrated” by the lack of flexibility he had in the sentencing due to mandatory sentence requirements.

Ultimately, Barbee is set to spend 660 months in prison.

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