US judge orders mental exam for Oklahoma bomb plot suspect

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Drake Varnell, Oklahoma Department of Corrections 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY – A federal judge has ordered a mental competency evaluation for a man accused of trying to detonate what he believed was an explosives-laden van outside an Oklahoma City bank.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Shon Erwin ordered the evaluation Friday for 23-year-old Jerry Drake Varnell, who is charged with attempting to use explosives to destroy a building in interstate commerce.

Varnell’s family says he’s a paranoid schizophrenic who has been in numerous mental hospitals since he was 16 years old.

Varnell’s attorney, Terri Coulter, requested the examination, but withdrew it after she said an independent psychologist determined Varnell was competent to be tried.

Varnell was arrested on Aug. 12 after allegedly planning to detonate a vehicle bomb. Authorities say an undercover FBI agent had helped Varnell construct the device with inert materials.

“The target himself, Mr. Varnell, would call the bomb through a triggering device in a cell phone that was affixed to the bomb,” said Raul Bujanda, the assistant special agent in charge for Oklahoma City. “He would call the phone and it would ring, and that’s what would detonate the bomb.”

Varnell is currently in custody.

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