SALEM, Ore. — A jury Wednesday sentenced a father and son to death for planting a bomb that exploded inside an Oregon bank two years ago, killing two police officers and maiming a third.
In a trial that spanned three months, prosecutors portrayed Bruce and Joshua Turnidge as bigoted men who hated authorities, were desperate for money and feared that newly elected President Barack Obama would take away their guns.
The same jury convicted the men Dec. 8 on 18 counts each of aggravated murder and other charges in the December 2008 bombing at a bank in Woodburn.
Both men have maintained their innocence. Father and son turned on each other in trial, each pointing the finger at the other for building and planting the bomb.
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 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.
Defence 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,” defence attorney Steven Gorham said in his closing argument. “Not the survivors’ children, not Joshua Turnidge’s children.”
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 Oregon 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 cellphones 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.
The death sentence will be automatically appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court, starting a judicial review that could last decades.
Since 1962, only two condemned inmates have been executed in Oregon — both were men who gave up their appeals.
The state has 34 men on death row, including some who were sentenced more than 20 years ago.