The trial of Bruce and Joshua Turnidge begins its sixth day of testimony in a Salem, Ore., courtroom today, where the father and son face nearly 20 counts ranging from aggravated murder to assault stemming from a December 2008 bank bombing that killed two police officers and seriously injured two others.
According to prosecutors, at least one of the two men – who have turned on each other as the trial has unfolded – began planning the bombing shortly after the election of Barack Obama, fearing the new president would restrict their gun rights upon taking office.
On the opening day of the trial last week, Marion County deputy district attorney Katie Suver told the jury that the election served as a “catalyst” for the bombing. She stated further that the father, Bruce, 59, attempted to start his own militia following the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, fearing a similar crackdown on guns.
It remains unclear exactly why the two men thought planting a bomb outside and robbing a bank in suburban Oregon would strike a blow against federal power. What is known is that on Dec. 12, 2008, an employee at a Wells Fargo Bank in Woodburn received a call from a man instructing her and her fellow employees to leave the building. When her manager told her to hang up, she did so and notified the police, who arrived and found a suspicious green metal box outside an adjacent bank.
William Hakim, a bomb technician with the Oregon State Police, thought the box was a hoax and brought it into the other bank for dismantling. When it went off, Hakim was killed along with Woodburn Police Capt. Thomas Tennant. Woodburn Police Chief Scott Russell survived but lost his right leg in the blast; a bank employee was also wounded. Authorities believe a passing trucker talking on a CB radio inadvertently triggered the remote-controlled device.
The father and son have acquired separate legal counsel and are at odds over who bears responsibility for the failed plot. Steven Krasik, the younger Turnidge’s attorney, stated last week that his client is innocent and had no idea that his father was actually going to follow through on one of his schemes. The father’s lawyer, meanwhile, has called 34-year-old Joshua Turnidge a liar, and pointed out that some of the elements in the failed plot, such as two throwaway cell phones, are linked to the son.
Whatever the truth, the elder Turnidge has never been discreet about his politics. “When the FBI went to Bruce Turnidge’s house the first time, he struck up a conversation with one of the agents ranging from his support of the Second Amendment to the origin of a racist slur against African Americans,” prosecutor Suver told the court, according to the Oregonian. “Turnidge then told the agent, ‘Now we have one in the White House.’”
The trial is expected to last into December. If either defendant is convicted, prosecutors are expected to push for the death penalty.