OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – A federal jury on Monday convicted a man with a grudge against the government for trying to set off what he believed was an explosive-filled van at a downtown Oklahoma City bank two years ago.
The jurors in Oklahoma City federal court deliberated for half a day before returning unanimous guilty verdicts against Jerry Drake Varnell, 24, 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. He faces up to 20 years in federal prison on the first charge and up to life on the second charge, along with a $250,000 fine on each count.
Federal agents arrested Varnell in August 2017 after he tried to detonate the van parked in an alley near the BancFirst building. Prosecutors said the FBI had earlier received word Varnell wanted to initially blow up the Federal Reserve Building in Washington with a device similar to the one used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing due to his anger with the government.
“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,” prosecutors said in a statement after the verdict. “The explosives were inert, and the public was not in danger.”
An unidentified FBI source said Varnell told him on Facebook Messenger that he changed the target because he didn’t “want to kill a bunch of people.”
“Varnell said he wanted to be a part of something and was of the same mind with people who wanted to use explosives and make a statement,” the 16-page arrest affidavit stated. “Varnell states, ‘something needs to be done,’ but killing a bunch of people was never a good idea.”
Prosecutors said Varnell helped assemble the device, drove it to the bank and dialed a mobile telephone that he believed would trigger the explosion.
Varnell pleaded not guilty and his attorneys have argued that he was entrapped. The court ruled in November 2017 that he was competent to stand trial after undergoing a psychological evaluation. Varnell’s parents testified during the two-week long trial that he is a paranoid schizophrenic who has been in several mental hospitals.
“Through its verdicts, the jury concluded any mental health problems did not prevent Varnell from forming the intent required for conviction,” prosecutors said. “It also determined the FBI did not entrap him.”
The undercover FBI agent who helped Varnell build what he thought was a bomb and the informant who recorded conversations with Varnell also testified.
Varnell remains in custody ahead of sentencing, which will occur within 90 days.