Father and son bank bombers found guilty on all counts

Father and son bank bombers found guilty on all counts

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SALEM, Ore. (AP) - A father and son were convicted Wednesday of planting a bank bomb that killed two police officers in a botched robbery that prosecutors said was motivated by plans to build a militia in case newly elected President Barack Obama cracked down on their gun rights.

A Marion County Circuit Court jury deliberated for less than a day before finding both Bruce Turnidge and his son, Joshua Turnidge, guilty on all 18 counts, which included aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder and assault charges.

Both stood silently as the verdicts were read. The convictions send the trial into a penalty phase that would begin Thursday, when the jury will decide whether to send the men to death row.

Other sentencing options include life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years or a life sentence with no parole.

Kelly Mix, a brother-in-law of one of the officers killed, Woodburn Police Capt. Tom Tennant, said he was pleased with the verdict but not surprised.

"For us, it doesn't change the fact that my brother-in-law is dead," Mix told The Oregonian. "I'm not opposed to the death penalty if the jury thinks that's the right punishment."

The homemade bomb exploded at the West Coast Bank in Woodburn less than two weeks before Christmas 2008, killing a police bomb technician who was trying to dismantle it, as well as Tennant, who was helping. The town's police chief, Scott Russell, lost a leg in the explosion, which authorities say was part of an attempt to rob the bank.

Prosecutors had presented evidence that the Turnidges harbored fantasies of building bombs, robbing banks and starting a militia. They hatched the bank robbery plan because they needed money to keep their biodiesel company afloat, prosecutors said.

Witnesses testified that Bruce Turnidge, who grew up in a prominent farming family in the Willamette Valley but could not make a go of farming himself, wanted to live in a tent city with people who shared his political beliefs but couldn't get money to build an arms stockpile for a militia.

According to testimony, father and son exulted in the Oklahoma City bombing, and Bruce Turnidge viewed Timothy McVeigh as a hero. Prosecutors also 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.

"Obviously the jury believes it, these are two very dangerous people who had absolutely no regard for their actions," Mix told the Statesman Journal.

The father and son turned against each other during the trial, but their lawyers came together to throw the blame for detonating the blast on state police bomb technician William Hakim, who mistakenly identified the green-painted metal box as a hoax.

A bank employee testified Hakim was hammering and prying on the box when it exploded.

Prosecutors argued that a stray radio signal, perhaps from a passing trucker, activated a remote-controlled device that triggered the bomb.

"Bill Hakim, Tom, Chief Russell saved lives," Joanna Mix, Tennant's sister, told the Statesman Journal. "Officer Hakim was doing his job to the best of his ability. Tom was assisting him to the best of his ability, and that's what they both did and loved about their jobs; trying to help. I was afraid the jury wouldn't see that."

Bruce Turnidge did not take the stand, but family members denied he hated police or held extremist political views.

Prosecutors presented evidence that the Turnidges planted the bomb outside the West Coast Bank, then phoned in a threat to another bank next door, where they had left a cell phone and garbage bags to handle their demands for money. The bomb went unnoticed for hours.

Joshua Turnidge testified that he bought two cell phones and materials used to build the bomb without knowing his father planned to use them to rob a bank. He said he only figured out what happened after hearing his father muttering that no one was supposed to get hurt.

If sentenced to death, the Turnidges would have automatic appeals to the Oregon Supreme Court, which would trigger a judicial review that could last decades.

Since 1962, only two condemned inmates have been executed in Oregon — both men who gave up their appeals. The state has 34 men on death row, including some who were sentenced more than 20 years ago.

After the verdict, the lingering question for West Coast Bank president, Bob Sznewajs and his employees, is why the Turnidges did it?

“I think it’s hard for us to understand how anybody could be part of this,” he said. “So I think for me, and for the company, that’s the most difficult part.”

Sznewajs said he believes the verdict will help his employees get a sense of closure.

“I think we were all confident justice would be done, so now that’s happened, I think that brings a lot of closure to it,” he said.

What has also helped in the past couple of years is the fund they created to assist the families of the officers.

Sznewajs said the bank has also made minor changes to their safety plan based on what happened.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. 

KATU News reporter Anna Canzano contributed to this report.