Right-wing domestic bombers in Oregon sentenced to die

by on December 27, 2010 · 2 comments

in Civil Rights, War and Peace

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.”

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

editordude December 27, 2010 at 7:29 pm

More on this strange case:

Here is the Bob Welch column in the Eugene Register-Guard.
Hate knows no color or background

By Bob Welch

Register-Guard columnist

Published: Tuesday, Nov 30, 2010 05:01AM

After hearing the news of a plot to detonate a bomb from which innocent people would die, I’m surprised someone apparently retaliated by burning an Islamic mosque in Corvallis.

I would have thought the retaliation target would have been, say, the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretative Center in Baker City.

Oh, wait, I’m confusing you, aren’t I?

You thought I was referring to that Muslim guy’s plan to set off an explosive at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland Friday.

No, no, no.

I’m referring to the less publicized trial going on in Marion County Circuit Court in which Bruce Turnidge, 59, and his son Josh, 34, are being tried in connection with the bomb in Woodburn that killed two police officers and maimed a third two years ago.

And the suspects are — pssst, are you with me? — relatives of a pioneer family that came here on the Oregon Trail. [sic, Applegate Trail]

“?‘Turnidge’ is one of the finest names in Oregon Pioneer history,” says Douglas Card of Veneta, author and local historian.

Indeed, the Turnidges are a couple of white guys with red, white and blue blood that you can trace back to 1846.

Guys whose roots are right here in the land of the free and home of the brave; in fact, a distant relative, Harrison Turnidge, was among the first handful of white European settlers in Eugene, [Turnidge was one of three starving emigrants from the Applegate Trail who spent the winter of 1846-47 in Eugene Skinner’s new cabin in Eugene] according to Card, who has spoken to current-day family members.

What’s more, Bruce Turnidge attended church, though, according to The Associated Press, a woman who worshiped with him in Nevada — Gail Lambert — testified that he often sat “like a ticking time bomb” during adult Sunday school, occasionally standing up to issue anti-government proclamations.

My point?

Demographics don’t kill people. People kill people. People with all sorts of religious affiliations, ethnic makeups and nationalities.

But if hatred is an equal opportunity feeling, too many of us are quick to blame an entire group for an individual’s actions — provided the group meets our “bad guy” standards. (See the Ku Klux Klan back in the 1950s and ’60s.)

“Why aren’t people more aware of the Turnidge trial?” asks Card, of the proceedings that began Sept. 29 and continue this week. “Imagine the massive media publicity if two law enforcement officers had been killed by a bomb from a Muslim terrorist instead.”

A historian at heart, Card can’t help but contrast 19-year-old Mohamed Mohamud’s foiled plot to detonate explosives in Portland with the death of two police officers at West Coast Bank in Woodburn on Dec. 12, 2008.

“You hear it said from time to time: ‘Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims,’?” Card says. “The Turnidge case shows that’s just not true. You can’t judge most Muslims by one Somali trying to do something bad any more than you can judge all Oregon white Christians by what the Turnidges did.”

The father and son, of course, are considered innocent until proven guilty. Prosecutors say they loved guns, hated President Obama — they worried that new legislation under Obama could prevent them from having weapons — and talked about starting a militia and a tent city for people.

“Bruce said that Timothy McVeigh was a hero,” Lambert testified, referring to the man responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people in 1995.

A former girlfriend of Turnidge’s son testifed that Bruce, upon hearing news of the explosion at the federal building in Oklahoma, pumped his fist in the air and “cheered like it was a football game.”

McVeigh served in the Army; after his conviction, some no doubt assumed that the Army must be toe-to-toe in folks like him.

You’d have to assume that’s the same one-bad-all-bad thinking that led to an arsonist — or arsonists — torching the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center in Corvallis on Sunday, the day after word broke about Mohamud’s alleged car-bombing plan in Portland.

And the same thinking that led to similar attacks — or angry put-downs — on mosques in at least 10 states in recent months, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Had a loved one of yours died in the 9/11 attacks, you can understand — even if you might not approve of — why someone would hold a grudge against Muslims.

And yet as Russian writer and historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, despite spending more than 10 years in forced-labor camps for writing anti-Soviet propaganda: “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

Easier, of course, to stick to the one-bad-all-bad perspective, even if history suggests that, when it comes to terrorists, the common denominator isn’t country, faith or skin color.

Whether that terrorist is a Somali-born Muslim or a descendant from Oregon Trail survivors, the common denominator is simply, and pathetically, this: a total disregard for the lives of others.

Bob Welch is at 541-338-2354 or bob.welch@registerguard.com.


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