Jury gives Woodburn bank bombers the death penalty

Jury gives Woodburn bank bombers the death penalty »Play Video
Joshua and Bruce Turnidge

SALEM, Ore. - The jury in the trial of a father and son who killed two people by leaving a bomb at a Woodburn bank sentenced both men to death Wednesday.

Other sentencing options for Bruce and Joshua Turnidge included life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years or a life sentence with no parole, but the jury decided to send both men to death row.

The jury's finding is officially a recommendation to the judge, who will impose a formal sentence on January 24, 2011. The judge is bound by the jury's death sentence and cannot impose a lesser penalty. However, because the case involves capital punishment, it automatically will be appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court.

Both men received their sentences with little emotion, while Joshua Turnidge's former fiancee, Jamie Lewis, wept after he was condemned to death.

"It's all in God's hands. We don't know what's going to happen eventually," said Janet Turnidge, who is Bruce Turnidge's wife and Joshua Turnidge's mother. "We want to express our deep, deep sorrow for the loss that the victims' families have endured. We have been praying for them."

The same jury convicted the men Dec. 8 on 18 counts each of aggravated murder and other charges in the December 2008 bombing at the West Coast Bank about 30 miles south of Portland. The homemade bomb killed state police bomb technician William Hakim, who was trying to dismantle it, and Woodburn Police Capt. Tom Tennant, who was helping.

"This is a murderer with no remorse," prosecutor Matt Kemmy said in his closing argument of the penalty phase Tuesday.

Both men have maintained their innocence. Father and son turned on each other during the trial, each pointing the finger at the other for building and planting the bomb, which prosecutors said was part of a plan to rob the bank.

Prosecutors urged jurors to sentence the men to death to prevent them from endangering prison staff or preaching their hatred for authorities to young prisoners who will someday be released. As convicted cop killers, the Turnidges will be popular in prison, they said.

Witnesses testified that Bruce Turnidge, 59, had previously hatched detailed plans to kill people he didn't like and once fantasized about killing then-President Bill Clinton. Prosecutor Courtland Geyer told jurors that a death sentence would mean "safety from crimes that lurk inside the mind of Bruce Turnidge."

Prosecutors portrayed Joshua Turnidge, 34, as selfish and hostile to jail staff.

Jail staff testified that the younger Turnidge made rude, "hateful" and disrespectful comments that resulted in him losing privileges, the Salem Statesman Journal reported.

Jail Sgt. Megan Gonzalez said Joshua Turnidge drew a swastika over a U.S. flag on a postcard that shows the jail facility and wrote other things including "pigs for sale!" ''human rights?" and "gas chamber" on the card before trying to send it. The postcard was deemed a violation of policy.

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

Defense attorneys said the men would want to behave well in prison so they could continue seeing visitors. Evelyn Knight, Bruce Turnidge's mother and Joshua's grandmother, testified that a death sentence would be devastating for Joshua's 12-year-old daughter, who is in the custody of her grandparents.

"No child should be left without a parent," defense attorney Steven Gorham said in his closing argument. "Not the survivors' children, not Joshua Turnidge's children."

The defense also argued that Joshua Turnidge would not be revered in prison but rather reviled as a snitch for testifying against his father.

The men were convicted after prosecutors argued that the Turnidges had fantasies of building bombs, robbing banks and starting an anti-government militia. They hatched the bank robbery plan because they needed money to keep their struggling biodiesel company afloat, prosecutors said.

Witnesses testified that Bruce Turnidge, who grew up in a 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.

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

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.

Woodburn Police Chief Scott Russell, who lost a leg in the explosion, said it was terrible that the plot ended with the murder of two police officers.

"It's really an attack on every citizen because they're the ones we protect," Russell said after the jury's decision was announced.

Oregon State Police Superintendent Chris Brown said in a statement following the verdict that the bombing has forever changed the victims' families and the police forces that employed them.

"We are grateful to the men and women who served on the jury for their attention to the facts that led to the decisions they were asked to make during this difficult trial," Brown said.

Very few Oregon death row inmates have actually received the ultimate penalty in recent years. Appeals and legal proceedings keep many on death row for years, even decades. There are currently 34 people on Oregon's death row.

Oregon uses lethal injection to execute those sentenced to death.

The last person to be executed in Oregon was Harry Charles Moore in 1997 under then-Gov. John Kitzhaber. Kitzhaber is set to return to the governor's office in January of 2011.