Editor: Why would the OB Rag publish this story? Corporate media is filled with articles about the FBI catching “would-be” Muslim terrorists in this or that part of the nation, but rarely do they cover a more dangerous trend: home-grown terrorists of the right-wing domestic variety who are out to push their racist and anti-Obama agenda on the rest of us. Do you wonder why you haven’t heard of this story before now?
Oregon racists turned bank bombers Bruce and Joshua Turnidge head to death row
by Bryan Denson / The Oregonian / Originally published December 22, 2010
SALEM — Marion County jurors on Wednesday condemned Woodburn bank bombers Bruce and Joshua Turnidge to die by lethal injection for the 2008 murders of two police officers. The decision will send father and son to nearby Oregon State Penitentiary, the only cop killers on death row.
That’s where they belong, said Police Chief Scott Russell, who lost a leg in the explosion that ripped through the interior of a West Coast Bank branch in the town he’s sworn to protect.
After the verdicts, Russell limped to a sunlit spot atop the courthouse steps and thanked jurors for their decision.
“The murder of a police officer is a terrible thing,” he said. “It’s an attack on every citizen. Because they’re the ones we represent when we wear the badge.”
Circuit Judge Thomas Hart took 13 minutes to read the jury’s unanimous verdicts, reached after joint trials that began Sept. 29 and dragged police and families of the victims and defendants through day after day of often wrenching testimony.
Jurors finished their deliberations on Bruce Turnidge’s fate last week, but Hart withheld their decision until the panel of nine women and three men could sentence Joshua Turnidge. The jury reached its decision on the son a little after 11 a.m., having deliberated for about four hours on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Neither Bruce nor Joshua Turnidge showed any discernible reaction to the verdicts. They were escorted from the courtroom under tight security to change out of their court attire. Bruce Turnidge walked out of the courthouse wearing shackles and carrying a book by Adventist theologian Jack Provonsha: “You Can Go Home Again.”
But for Turnidge and his family, there was no going back. His wife, Janet Turnidge, walked out of the second-floor courtroom, a string of weeping friends and family following her down a stairwell. A lean, elegant woman with short hair, Turnidge gathered herself and walked wordlessly to the front steps of the courthouse.
“We want to express our deep, deep sorrow for the loss the victims’ families have endured,” she told reporters. “We’ve been praying for them from the very beginning. … We are not unemotional people, as I’ve been portrayed.”
Turnidge dodged a question about her reaction to the death sentences against her husband and oldest son.
“It’s all in God’s hands,” she said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen eventually.”
Two weeks ago, jurors found Bruce and Joshua Turnidge guilty of 18 crimes each, including multiple counts of aggravated murder and attempted aggravated murder. The sentencing phase of the trials began next, when jurors heard testimony about whether the men should be sentenced to death.
More than 100 witnesses testified at the trials, which stretched from the first days of fall to the beginning of winter. Jurors heard a tale of two sad, dispirited men who were vocal in their contempt of government and police and thought the Obama administration would put increased restrictions on their right to bear arms.
The Turnidges were perpetually strapped for cash, facing yet another business failure as their biodiesel company bled money.
Prosecutors said the pressure they felt was enough to prompt the Turnidges to put in place a long-held bank-robbery fantasy. On Dec. 12, 2008, they planted a bomb in bushes outside the bank. But the plot went awry when police officers, thinking the bomb was a hoax, moved the device inside the bank and tried to take it apart.
The blast tore through the bank, killing Oregon State Police Senior Trooper William Hakim and Woodburn Police Capt. Tom Tennant. The blast critically injured Russell and wounded bank employee Laurie Perkett.
Prosecutors argued that the two men would pose a continuing threat to society — even in prison. Their crimes give them instant status in prison, they said, and other inmates might try to put their bomb-making knowledge to use once they were on the outside.
The state said the Turnidges’ views — described as racist, anti-government and anti-authority — were reasons to sentence the men to death. And they described the bombing as Bruce Turnidge’s “Timothy McVeigh moment.”
McVeigh orchestrated the April 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, a seminal moment in what was then a virulent and growing anti-government movement. And McVeigh, prosecutors contended, was a hero of Bruce Turnidge.
“The only sentence that will silence Bruce Turnidge’s beliefs and his mind is a sentence of death,” said Deputy District Attorney Katie Suver,
Defense lawyers said neither Bruce Turnidge nor Joshua Turnidge was ever imprisoned before the bombing, and they accused the state of throwing mud at the defendants with stale episodes of bad behavior, including remarks made decades earlier in some cases.
“The death penalty must be reserved for the worst of the worst,” said defense attorney Steven Gorham during his closing statements in the penalty phase for Josh Turnidge. “The facts of the crime and the totality of the evidence presented for and against Joshua Turnidge show that putting him to death would be in the name of vengeance alone, not justice.”
The defense argued that neither of the Turnidges personally detonated the bomb — abandoned when the “idiotic bank robbery plan” went awry. And it was Hakim, they said, who — banging on the explosive device with a hammer and prying it open with a crowbar — showed recklessness in handling the bomb.
A witness testified that the device went off just as Hakim said, “There, I got it.”
The state argued that Hakim wasn’t to blame because an unknown radio transmission from an unknown source communicated with the remote-control bomb at the precise moment Hakim apparently tried to open it.
Testimony from neighbors, longtime friends and family members offered a glimpse of how the two men — descendants of a prominent Willamette Valley farming family with political connections — could end up on a path to murder.
Despite the family’s roots, Bruce Turnidge’s efforts in farming in Oregon and Nevada never paid off. He and his family were kicked off his uncle’s farm, prompting him to nearly shoot him, according to witnesses. And he lost another farm in foreclosure by his lender, which prompted more threats, witnesses said, although none were carried out.
Joshua Turnidge didn’t fare any better. After high school, he tried onion farming for his father. But his mother testified that her oldest son spent more time partying than tending to the crop.
The two also tried working together in construction, with little success. Finally, in 2008, the Turnidges formed a business with Bruce Turnidge’s brother, Pat Turnidge, to refine cooking oil into biodiesel. By that December, as the business failed to turn a dime in profit, father and son turned their bank-robbing fantasy into reality.
“We fully expected the death penalty would be imposed,” Pat Turnidge said after Wednesday’s verdicts. ” I felt that all along. You just have to let it go at that and move on.”
The verdicts pleased Anthony Pyritz, the nephew of Capt. Tennant, because, “They’ll never see the light of day.”
But the end of the trials doesn’t change his uncle’s death, he said, it closes a chapter.
“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind,” Pyritz said, “but I’m just glad it’s over.”