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Mother Testifies On Son’s Mental Health In OKC Bomb Plot Trial

Caroline Halter
Jerry Varnell's trial is taking place in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.

Jerry Varnell’s lawyers called his mother, Melonie Varnell, as their first witness after the federal government rested its case Thursday. Her testimony painted a picture of her son’s schizophrenia, a focal point for the defense.

Melonie Varnell said she and her husband became legal guardians of their adult son in 2013, following five psychiatric hospitalizations. Jerry Varnell’s problems, she said, started during puberty.

“He wasn’t the same,” she said. ”We didn’t understand what was going on.”

Initially, Melonie Varnell said her son withdrew in social situations and his grades began slipping. Then the delusions started.

According to Melonie Varnell’s testimony, her son believed he could make gold by burying objects in the ground. When his grandmother was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2011, he claimed he had developed a cure. After studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 2012, he thought he was Jesus and that his mother was the Virgin Mary. And he frequently disappeared from home, returning without any recollection of his whereabouts.

“The thing about someone like that is that they believe it. You know what you know,” Melonie Varnell told the jury. “You’ve got to work with them.”

His mother’s testimony revealed Jerry Varnell was first hospitalized in 2009, after he began cutting himself. The last hospitalization was in 2013, and he was prescribed a new antipsychotic drug, Haloperidol. Evidence showed he continued to get the prescription throughout 2017, but it’s not clear if he took the medication consistently or how it affected him.


Life events seemily exacerbated Jerry Varnell’s mental illness.


In Jan. 2016 Melonie Varnell said her son went to college in Weatherford. Then his best friend commited suicide. Shortly after that, his wife left him. Jerry Varnell withdrew from school and moved back to his parents’ property in Sayre. Melonie Varnell said her goal was to “stabilize him,” like she had done numerous times before.

That fall, Melonie Varnell’s oldest son, Jerry Varnell’s brother, nearly died of a drug overdose.

“It was hard on me, but for Drake [Jerry Varnell], it was terrible,” Melonie Varnell explained.

Melonie Varnell thought going back to school might help her son, but Jerry Varnell did not perform well. By summer, when Jerry Varnell began meeting with an FBI informant who encouraged his interest in domestic terrorism and the undercover FBI agent who posed as a like-minded individual with access to explosives, Melonie Varnell described him as “very depressed.”

Following Jerry Varnell's divorce, his mother said she believed her son needed to live permanently with the family in Sayre. Melonie and Clifford Varnell began building Jerry Varnell his own house on the property. Now he may spend the rest of his life in prison. 

Caroline produced Capitol Insider and did general assignment reporting from 2018 to 2019. She joined KGOU after a stint at Marfa Public Radio, where she covered a wide range of local and regional issues in far west Texas. Previously, she reported on state politics for KTOO Public Media in Alaska and various outlets in Washington State.
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