Testimony: Mom claims accused bomb maker suffered from delusional thinking since high school

Defendant's family says he didn't have a job or a car and could never have pulled off a terrorist bomb plot without encouragement from the FBI.

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Jerry Drake Varnell. Courtesy

This story was updated with additional information Saturday, Feb. 23.

Alleged bomb maker Jerry Drake Varnell has suffered from delusional thinking since high school and once believed he discovered a cure for cancer and had the ability to turn rocks into gold, his mother testified Thursday.

Melonie Varnell testified she began to see her son’s mental health deteriorate in adolescence.

“He wasn’t the same,” Melonie Varnell said. “You couldn’t converse with him.”

Jerry Varnell or “Drake” as his family calls him, was hospitalized for the first time in the 9th grade for cutting himself. He experienced multiple psychotic episodes throughout his teens and 20s, she said.

As a teenager, Jerry Varnell would sometimes disappear late at night and claim not to remember where he was or what he had been doing, Melonie Varnell testified.

Her son once came home in the middle of the night wearing a swimming coat, a running shoe on one foot and a boot on the other.

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“He just kept getting more hyper and out of control,” she said.

Wearing an ill-fitting dress shirt, Varnell mostly looked down at the defense table during his mother’s testimony. His skin is pale from a year and a half in of confinement to the Grady County jail in Chickasha, where he has been held awaiting trial since August 2017.

Jerry Varnell was easily impressionable and developed various delusions about whatever was going on around him, his mother testified.

After studying Catholic Catechism, Varnell started to believe his mother was the Virgin Mary and he was Jesus.

After his grandmother was diagnosed with lung cancer, he believed he had discovered a cure.

He also once believed he was a race car driver and became obsessed with working on his pickup truck after hearing the song “Jerry was a Race Car Driver” by the band Primus.

In another episode, he believed he could make gold by burying rocks during a certain phase of the moon.

“I think he still believe he can make gold,” Melonie Varnell said.

By his early 20s, Jerry Varnell was taking anti-psychotic medication and his parents had legal guardianship over him. He did not have a job or a car and lived in a trailer on the family ranch.

Even with legal guardianship, Melonie Varnell could not hospitalize her son if he didn’t want to go, unless she could prove in court that he was a danger to himself or others.

Melonie Varnell said she was unaware of her son’s plans to detonate a bomb at a bank building in downtown Oklahoma City.

“If I had known, I would have probably put him in the hospital,” she said.

She found out about the plan when the FBI conducted a pre-dawn raid on her family property the morning of her son’s arrest.

Jerry Varnell, 24, is on trial in federal court in Oklahoma City for attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction to blow up the BancFirst building in downtown Oklahoma City in 2017. He was arrested in an elaborate FBI sting operation after he unwittingly built a fake bomb and tried to detonate it at the direction of federal agents.

His attorneys claim he lacked the skill or wherewithal to follow through with a bomb plot.

FURTHER READING:

Informant takes the witness stand in Oklahoma City bomb sting trial

FBI detonated large ammonium nitrate explosive as part of case against man accused in OKC bomb plot

FBI sting to foil Oklahoma City bomb plot based on informant with history of mental illness, protective orders and threats

Mom of man accused in bombing sting say charges against son based on false information provided by paid informant

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Brianna Bailey

Brianna Bailey grew up in Idaho. Oklahoma is her adopted home. Bailey has covered issues ranging from Oklahoma's strained child welfare system to the slow decline of Oklahoma's rural hospitals. She has walked all the way across Oklahoma City twice, once north-to south via Western Avenue and once via the old U.S. Route 66. Her hobbies are baking and crashing meetings she isn't invited to attend. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The University of Oklahoma. Email her at brianna@readfrontier.com
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