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Federal jury convicts man who attempted to bomb Oklahoma City bank

Ponca City Now - February 25, 2019 4:57 pm

OKLAHOMA CITY — A federal jury has convicted Jerry Drake Varnell, 24, of Sayre, Oklahoma, for attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction at BancFirst in downtown Oklahoma City, announced Robert J. Troester of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Jurors began hearing testimony on Feb. 12 and entertained closing arguments this morning.  After a half-day of deliberation, they returned unanimous verdicts of guilty on one count of attempting to use an explosive device to damage a building in interstate commerce and one count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against property used in interstate commerce.

The FBI arrested Varnell at approximately 1 a.m. on Aug. 12, 2017, after he attempted to detonate what he believed to be an explosives-laden van he had parked in an alley next to BancFirst, at 101 North Broadway in Oklahoma City.  The arrest was the culmination of a long-term domestic terrorism investigation involving an undercover operation, during which Varnell had been monitored closely for months as the alleged bomb plot developed.

The explosives were inert, and the public was not in danger.  FBI had received information that Varnell initially wanted to blow up the Federal Reserve Building in Washington, D.C., with a device similar to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing because he was upset with the government.

On Oct. 17, 2017, a federal grand jury charged Varnell with attempting to use an explosive device to damage and destroy BancFirst’s corporate offices.  After a psychological evaluation, the court entered an order on Nov. 21, 2017, that found him competent to stand trial.  The grand jury returned a superseding indictment on April 17, 2018, that added one count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.

At trial, the jury heard testimony from an informant who made recordings of his conversations with Varnell.  It also heard from the undercover FBI agent who helped Varnell build what he thought was a bomb, an FBI bomb technician, and others.  It listened to numerous recordings in which Varnell planned the attack and reviewed numerous written electronic communications that corroborated his intent.

Furthermore, it heard the testimony of a defense expert concerning Varnell’s mental health.  Through its verdicts, the jury concluded any mental health problems did not prevent Varnell from forming the intent required for conviction.  It also determined the FBI did not entrap him.

Varnell will remain in custody until his sentencing, which will take place in approximately 90 days.  He faces a maximum sentence of life for attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and a maximum sentence of 20 years for attempting to use an explosive device.  The explosive-device count carries a statutory mandatory minimum sentence of five years.  He could also be fined $250,000 on each count and subject to supervised release for the rest of his life.

This investigation was conducted by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, including members from the Oklahoma City FBI; Homeland Security Investigations, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; the Oklahoma City Police Department; the Edmond Police Department; the Oklahoma Highway Patrol; the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs; and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

The FBI worked in conjunction with BancFirst during the investigation.  Oklahoma District Attorney Angela Marsee, of District 2, also provided assistance.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matt Dillon and Mark R. Stoneman, with assistance from the Justice Department’s Counterterrorism Section.

 

 

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