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Story by Larry Fitzpatrick - The Oregon Herald
Published on Wednesday December 22, 2010 - 12:27 PM
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SALEM, Oregon - Father and son bank robbers who killed two people when they left a homemade bomb at the West Coast Bank in Woodburn, have been convicted of planting the bomb that killed two police officers. They have both been sentenced to death.

The jury deliberated for less than a day and found Bruce Turnidge and his son, Joshua Turnidge, guilty on all 18 counts, including aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder and assault charges.

Kelly Mix, brother-in-law of Woodburn Police Captain Tom Tennant, killed in by the bomb, said he was pleased with the verdict said he was not surprised but he was pleased.

"For us, it doesn't change the fact that my brother-in-law is dead," Mix told The Oregonian. "I'm not opposed to the death penalty if the jury thinks that's the right punishment."

The two men were arrested in Salem. The manager of the Woodburn branch of West Coast Bank found the device after a call about a bomb threat to a nearby Wells Fargo bank branch turned up a harmless device. The bomb at West Coast Bank was found outside, but the officers took it inside, where it exploded.

Lt. Sheila Lorance of the Marion County Sheriff's Office, the lead agency in the case, did not have an explanation for why the officers took the bomb into the bank.

Both defendants stood with their lawyers and stared straight forward, showing no emotion as Marion County Circuit Judge Tom Hart read the jury's verdict. Sheriff's deputies handcuffed them with their hands in front of their bodies.

The same jury convicted the men Dec. 8 on 18 counts each of aggravated killing and other charges in the December 2008 exploding at a bank in Woodburn.

"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 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 individuals 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 United States 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 town 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 the Joshua Turnidge would not be revered in prison except 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 except could not make a go of farming himself, wanted to live in a tent town with individuals who shared his political beliefs except couldn't accept money to build an arms stockpile for a militia.

Bruce Turnidge did not take the stand, except 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 explosive device 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 accept 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 a few who were sentenced more than 20 years ago.