Family Says FBI Knew Alleged Oklahoma Bomb Plotter Had Mental Health Issues

Christine Frapech
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The family of the 23-year-old man arrested this weekend for allegedly trying to set off what he thought was a large car bomb outside an Oklahoma City bank has accused the FBI of knowingly entrapping an individual who suffers from severe mental health issues.

In the culmination of a months-long FBI sting operation, Jerry Drake Varnell, a 23-year-old Sayre, Oklahoma resident, was charged with planning to blow up the BancFirst building in an anti-government plot modeled after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing attack that killed dozens.

A federal criminal complaint against Varnell does not reference his history of mental illness, which is documented in state records related to a 2013 assault against his then-wife.

Varnell was charged with one felony count of domestic assault and battery by strangulation after sexually and physically assaulting his then-wife in the apartment they shared in February 2013, when he was a student at Southwestern Oklahoma State University.

The woman told police that Varnell had a “schizophrenic episode” that caused him to believe “he would die at midnight and needed to impregnate her,” according to a probable cause affidavit. She told police that when she declined, Varnell smothered her face with a pillow until she passed out, and that when she awoke, he was “raping her.”

Varnell ultimately pleaded no contest and received a five-year deferred sentence. Plea documents show that he had received a diagnosis for schizophrenic affective disorder the month of his arrest on the assault and battery charge.

Varnell’s attorney, Terri Coulter, did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment from TPM. Melonie Varnell, the suspect’s mother, and Cade Varnell, the suspect’s brother, also did not immediately respond to Facebook messages seeking comment.

In a Monday interview with the Daily Beast, Melonie Varnell said that her son had been hospitalized six times since age 16 as a result of his schizophrenia, and that his alleged involvement in the bombing plot was brought on by the paranoia and conspiracies inherent to his illness.

“Without the Haldol, he thinks he’s Jesus, he’s tried to make gold before, he’s chased trolls. He’s very mentally ill,” Melonie Varnell told the Daily Beast, referring to the medication her son takes.

“I consider this entrapment,” she added. “They got him to do this. We live two hours from Oklahoma City.”

In a statement to HuffPost, Varnell’s mother noted that the well-equipped “bunker” the FBI said her son maintained in the backyard was just a “storm shelter” that the family used for storage.

Varnell faces between five and 20 years in prison for the alleged bomb plot, which came about after a confidential informant and an undercover FBI agent helped him gain access to what he believed were explosive materials, according to the complaint. He also allegedly made comments in support of the anti-government “III %” movement and repeatedly said he wanted to destroy federal property.

His detention hearing is set for Aug. 22.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.
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