From left, attorney Marna Franklin and Melonie Varnell talk with reporters outside the federal courthouse in Oklahoma City on Monday, April 23, 2018. BRIANNA BAILEY/The Frontier

Speaking outside the federal courthouse in Oklahoma City, the mother of a man accused of plotting to blow up a bank building in downtown Oklahoma City said she believes some of the evidence against her son is based on false information provided by a paid informant.

The informant, Brent Allen Elisens, told federal agents that accused bombmaker Jerry Drake Varnell had a secret bunker on his family’s ranch in Sayre.

Melonie Varnell said she believes the FBI knew the structure was actually an old shipping container used for storage and as a storm shelter. The FBI executed a search warrant on the family’s property anyway, she said.

“The FBI, they knew. They raided our house with guns drawn — they had no clue what they did to us,” Melonie Varnell said. “They knew it was just a storage shelter but they did it anyway.”

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Handcuffed and wearing a baggy orange jail uniform, Varnell smiled and nodded at family members sitting in the gallery during court proceedings.

Varnell, 24, pleaded not guilty on Monday to enhanced charges that could send him to prison for life if convicted.

He faces a charge of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction after he allegedly assembled and attempted to detonate an inert bomb in a cargo van in August 2017. The charge carries up to a life sentence. The fake bomb was part of an elaborate FBI sting operation to catch Varnell in an alleged anti-government plot to blow up the BancFirst building in downtown Oklahoma City.

Varnell’s attorney Marna Franklin said federal prosecutors have enormous discretion on the types of charges they pursue against defendants like Varnell.

“He is an individual with severe mental illness, and we look forward to trial and the ability to show the jury exactly what happened in the months preceding the events that they’ve charged him with,” she said.


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