Father, son go on trial in officer killings

SALEM — After the threatening phone call to a Wells Fargo bank employee, Oregon State Police bomb technician Bill Hakim examined the supposed explosive device: a cell phone atop a package containing trash bags, all in a garbage bin. Not a bomb, he concluded.

A few hours later, he was back to X-ray a green metal box found in the bushes outside the adjacent West Coast Bank office in the Willamette Valley town of Woodburn. Not a bomb, he concluded.

Hakim and Woodburn police Lt. Tom Tennant took the box into the building and tried to take it apart. A bomb inside the box exploded, killing them and severely injuring Woodburn Police Chief Scott Russell, who lost his right leg.

Nearly two years later, a father and son go on trial Wednesday, accused of aggravated murder and other charges. They could face the death penalty.

Prosecutors have alleged the bomb that went off Dec. 12, 2008, was part of a robbery attempt, and they've indicated they plan to introduce evidence showing the suspects harbored anti-government feelings.

The defense strategy will be outlined in opening statements scheduled to begin Wednesday.

Bruce A. Turnidge, 59, had a string of failed businesses in Oregon and Nevada, and his son, Joshua A. Turnidge, 34, a Navy veteran, ran a biodiesel facility with his uncle.

The family has deep roots in the Willamette Valley. Bruce Turnidge's father once owned a major mint farm in the valley but lost it when Bruce was just 18, forcing him and his brothers to go out on their own.

Records show Bruce Turnidge lived on a farm in Nevada and had a struggling excavating business from the late 1990s until 2006. He also had a dispute with a rancher over ownership of a mobile home. He moved back to Oregon in 2006 and ran up a string of debts.

A search warrant affidavit obtained by The Oregonian newspaper quoted a friend of Bruce and Joshua Turnidge as saying they talked regularly about robbing banks and held anti-government feelings. Police quoted Ronald Laughlin as saying that at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in 1994, Joshua Turnidge told him about making a bomb threat to a Woodburn bank and demanding money to be dropped at a portable toilet at a construction site.

On the morning of Dec. 12, 2008, court documents say, a man called the Wells Fargo branch in Woodburn and warned everyone to leave the building or die.

The caller added that a cell phone would be in a garbage bin outside, which he would call with further instructions.

Local police found the phone in the garbage bin on top of a package. Hakim, a 51-year-old senior trooper, and an FBI bomb technician examined the package and determined it wasn't a bomb.

Later that day, as police continued a search that began with the morning call, the metal utility box, painted green, was found in the bushes at the West Coast Bank branch.

Hakim looked it over, X-rayed it and was confident it was also harmless, so he and Tennant took it inside. A bank employee on her way out told police she saw Hakim trying to open the box while Tennant, 51, held it. A fragment from the explosion cut her leg.

Court documents show police were able to track a cellular air card found near the explosion site to a store in Salem.

There, a surveillance camera showed the man who bought the air card getting into a pickup truck. The first letter and last two numbers of the license plate were visible.

Investigators found a matching truck registered to Bruce Turnidge, but he looked too old to be the man in the surveillance recording. When they checked the driver's license photo of his son, they decided they had their bomber.

After releasing a photo of a suspect and offering a $35,000 reward, authorities arrested Joshua Turnidge in Salem two days after the bombing. Bruce Turnidge was arrested two days later at the farm he rented south of Salem.

Court records say the night Joshua Turnidge was arrested, his father left the house for several hours in a snowstorm without telling his wife where he was going.

Investigators searched the farmhouse two days later and followed tire tracks and footprints to the Santiam River. Materials found at the house and the river included two tubes of the explosive Tovex, a blasting cap, and plywood sprayed with green paint matching the color on the metal utility box, authorities said.

Court records said it was the same color used to paint barrels at the biodiesel business where Joshua Turnidge worked with his uncle.

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