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Jury Recommends Death Penalty In Woodburn Bank Bombing Case

A jury has recommended that Bruce and Joshua Turnidge be sentenced to death for the bank bombing that killed two Oregon policemen, two years ago. One of Oregon’s most-watched legal cases closes out its initial phase. April Baer reports.

Judge Thomas Hart’s courtroom was packed, standing-room-only, with more than a hundred people. But it might as well have been empty,  because the room was so still when the judge announced the jurors’ decision.

Judge Hart instructed the defendants and the court’s audience not to react.

Judge Thomas Hart: “And the fourth question is, should the defendant receive the death penalty. The answer is yes.”

The Turnidges were convicted of aggravated murder for building and placing a homemade bomb at a West Coast Bank branch on December 12, 2008.

Trooper William Hakim and Woodburn Police Captain Tom Tennant died while trying to dismantle the device.

The jury was asked to answer specific questions to determine whether the death sentence should be applied.

Judge Thomas Hart: “Was the conduct of the defendant that caused the death of William Hakim committed deliberately, and with the reasonable expectation that the death of William Hakim or another would result, the answer is yes.”

The procedure doesn’t actually allow jurors to assign a death penalty. Instead they answer a series of four questions for each of the applicable charges: Was the crime committed deliberately? Does the defendant represent a continuous threat? Was the murder unreasonable given any provocation, and should the death penalty be applied?

Depending on how the jury answers, the judge will then sentence defendants to death, life in prison without parole, or life with the possibility of parole after 30 years.

But Oregon law gives Judge Hart no choices in sentencing. Since the jury answered the necessary questions unanimously, he must apply the death penalty in both cases.

After the penalty verdicts were announced, the Turnidges were handcuffed and removed from court. Outside the courthouse, one of the surviving victims of the bombing spoke.

Scott Russell: “I’d just like to thank the jury for their hard work, tough efforts over the last three months.”

Woodburn Police Chief Scott Russell was standing in the West Coast Bank lobby when the homemade bomb went off, killing his friend and colleague, Captain Tom Tennant, and also State Trooper William Hakim.

Russell barely escaped with his life, and lost a leg.

Scott Russell “The murder of a police officer’s a terrible thing. It’s really an attack on every citizen, because that’s who we represent when we wear the badge. So we’re thankful, prepared to move on, and looking forward to the final sentencing coming up in January.”

The jury’s decision does not mean the case is over. Appeals to the Oregon Supreme Court are mandatory in capital cases. And the families of those involved may find themselves with a lot to think about, with this phase of the trial behind them.

After the penalty verdicts were read, Janet Turnidge faced cameras for the first time since her husband, Bruce, and her son Joshua were first arrested.

Janet Turnidge: “We hope that the Tennant families, the Hakim families and everybody else involved in this will find peace at some point in their lives as we will hope to find, too.”

Turnidge is still caring for her granddaughter, Joshua Turnidge’s child. She asked for some time for the family to gather and heal, indicating much emotional work is yet to be done.

Janet Turnidge: “Our deep faith is something that has kept us going strong as a family, and is something we pray will continue for their families to heal throughout this process.”

Judge Hart will formally sentence the Turnidges January 24. Attorneys in the case are forbidden from speaking about the case until then.

Jury members were whisked out the courtroom after their work was done Wednesday.

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