Merrick Garland, Richard W. Roberts, and the Kenneth Trentadue Murder: The Deep State Takes Care of Its Own

“You have to trust the government,” Justice Department attorney Richard Roberts unctuously told Jesse Trentadue. Seeking to understand why his younger brother Kenneth had died while in federal custody, Jesse, a trial attorney in Salt Lake City, had asked to see the findings of a federal grand jury investigation of the case.

In an incandescent response to Roberts’s patronizing dismissal, Trentadue reminded the Justice Department functionary that the proper relationship between citizens and the government is not one of “trust,” but rather of “accountability from that government to the citizens.”

“The Department of Justice has yet to account to the family for the death of my brother,” Trentadue pointed out. “There is no love between us, and there certainly is no trust.”

By the time Jesse had sent that October 16, 1997, letter to Roberts – who was Chief of the Justice Department’s Criminal Section – more than two years had passed since his brother Kenneth had died in a federal prison cell in Oklahoma City. In August 22, 1995, phone call notifying Kenneth’s mother Wilma about her son’s death, the warden casually mentioned that the body was scheduled for cremation within hours.

Wilma demanded to know if Kenneth’s wife had authorized the disposition of his body. The warden replied that she hadn’t been aware that Kenneth was married. After making it clear that her son’s remains were not to be cremated, Wilma joined Jesse in Oklahoma City, where they took custody of Kenneth’s body.

After carefully scraping away several layers of ineptly applied makeup, Wilma and Jesse understood why authorities had been determined to dispose of Kenneth’s body. The official story was that he had committed suicide by hanging himself in what was described as a suicide-proof cell. This wouldn’t explain why his face and torso were mottled with bruises testifying of a severe beating inflicted by several people, or why his throat appeared to have been cut and his scalp was split open.

By the time Kenneth’s family had collected his body, all of the evidence in the crime scene had been destroyed. In violation of Oklahoma state law, the floors and walls of the cell had been sanitized, erasing fingerprints and wiping away blood and DNA evidence. The victim’s clothing and bedding had been confiscated by FBI Special Agent Jeff Jenkins, who kept this evidence hidden in the trunk of his car until putrefaction set in, rendering it useless to the FBI Crime Lab.

One witness in a nearby cell testified that he heard the sounds of a struggle shortly before Kenneth’s lifeless body was “discovered” by a guard. Several other witnesses reported seeing bloody riot gear, uniforms, and batons belonging to the facility’s SORT (Special Operations Response Team) unit.

The Bureau of Prisons designated “suicide by asphyxia” as the cause of Kenneth’s death, insisting that his other injuries were “self-inflicted.”

Dr. Fred Jordan, Oklahoma’s Chief State Medical Examiner, was pressured to validate the official story that Kenneth was a suicide victim, despite the fact that his body was “covered in blood … soaked in blood, covered with bruises,” as Jordan would later recall. He was forbidden by federal officials to have access to the death scene until five months after the death. An application of Luminol, a blood reagent, left the cell “lit up like a candle because of the blood still present on the walls after four or five months.”

Rather than acceding to federal demands, Jordan listed the cause of Kenneth’s death as “unknown.” Kevin Rowland, chief investigator for the ME’s office, filed a complaint with the FBI describing the incident as “murder.” He also consulted with Col. William T. Gormley of the United States Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, who concurred with Dr. Jordan’s findings.

Rowland, intriguingly, was recently subjected to the pointless torment over a “sexual battery” charge arising from an incident in which he allegedly twisted a male co-worker’s nipple. That alleged incident, furthermore, occurred decades ago. Bear in mind the nature of that charge, and the institutional memory that led to it being filed against this whistleblower; this will become relevant anon.

All of the pertinent facts about Kenneth’s murder were exhumed by Trentadue and his colleagues long after the Justice Department had concluded what Criminal Section Chief Richard Roberts claimed was a “flawless” and “thorough” investigation – one that began on August 21, 1995, and was closed the following day. The findings of that one-day “investigation” were submitted to a federal grand jury – not one on Oklahoma City – which ratified the Justice Department’s official story.

When Trentadue requested access to the federal grand jury’s findings, Roberts parried that petition with a patronizing admonition to “trust the government.” The following year, Roberts was selected by Bill Clinton to serve on the District Court for the District of Columbia, an appointment that could be seen as a reward for his role in consummating a vital cover-up.

Kenneth Trentadue, Jesse learned from an anonymous caller shortly after his brother’s death, was “murdered by the FBI” in a lethal case of mistaken identity. In appearance, body type, distinguishing features (including, however implausibly, tattoos), age, and criminal background, Kenneth was a near-twin of Richard Lee Guthrie – who was in the custody of the federal prison system when Kenneth was arrested for an alleged parole violation shortly after the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

For several years, Guthrie was involved in an FBI-protected gang called the Aryan Republican Army (ARA), which staged bank robberies to fund white supremacist activities across the country. The ARA was an asset of the FBI’s PATCON (Patriot Conspiracy) program, which seeded “radical right” groups with informants and provocateurs. The Oklahoma City bombing was the result of a PATCON operation – most likely a security theater production that went badly off-script. Guthrie is one of the several very good candidates for the enigmatic “John Doe #2” whom many witnesses saw in the company of Timothy McVeigh on the morning of the bombing – and whose identity the government has sought to conceal ever since. Just a few months after Kenneth’s traumatized body was “found” dangling in a cell at the Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma, Guthrie died in a similarly unconvincing “suicide.” Shortly before he was killed, Guthrie had somewhat imprudently announced his intention to write a memoir disclosing critical secrets regarding the Oklahoma City bombing.

The source who told Jesse that Kenneth had been killed by the FBI described the murder as “an interrogation went wrong.” Before his parole, Kenneth had been a bank robber, albeit one not affiliated with the alpha gang of the criminal underworld, the FBI. He couldn’t answer any PATCON-related questions, and so he was tortured to death. His captors may have really believed that he was Guthrie. They may have realized that he wasn’t, but decided that it would be compromising to let him live. In either case, the objective was to tie up a loose end quickly. Fortunately, enough of a thread was left dangling for Jesse to find it. He has been tugging on it for more than twenty years.

Learning the identity of “John Doe #2” is necessary to solve the mystery of his brother’s murder, Jesse believes, and the identity of that PATCON asset remains a protected state secret.

In response to a July 2009 Freedom of Information Act request by Jesse, the FBI turned over six DVDs that supposedly contained all of the video recordings collected after the bombing. Missing from that collection – and pointedly ignored in the FBI’s response to Jesse’s request – is a video captured by the exterior surveillance camera located in the Regency Tower

Apartments near the ill-fated Murrah Building. In May 2011, a federal judge ordered the FBI to conduct additional searches and turn over all video records collected, from whatever source, of the Oklahoma City bombing. The bureau has refused to comply with that order, claiming that if the video exists it is irretrievably lost in a long-forgotten evidence vault. 

The existence of that video is proven by the testimony of FBI Special Agent Jon Hersley during McVeigh’s April 27, 1995, preliminary hearing. Hersley, who was among those agents tasked “to further identify and locate other individuals who may have been involved in the bombing,” testified that within “two or three days” of the bombing he had been shown “still photos” culled from a the video captured by the Regency Tower surveillance system. The film itself, he explained, was in the control of other agents within the bureau.

During cross-examination, defense counsel John Coyle, challenging the foundation for video evidence implicating his client, asked Agent Hersley, “who are those agents that are tasked with the responsibility of reviewing photographs and film footage?”

That entirely reasonable question prompted an objection by the lead prosecutor, a Justice Department attorney named Merrick Garland. The objection being overruled, Hersley identified the agent in question as Walt Lamar. As Coyle continued to pursue this line of inquiry, Garland objected a second time, protesting that “we are going in the area of discovery now.”

The second objection was sustained, the matter was dropped, and potential “discovery” of evidence that could have revealed the identity of John Doe #2 was foreclosed by the man who, two decades later, would be chosen to fill a critical vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Assuming that the Senate holds confirmation hearings on the Garland nomination, some senators reportedly plan to ask why he recused himself in a judicial misconduct case involving a colleague – none other than Richard Roberts, who resigned a few days later for “health” reasons. Roberts was under investigation by the Utah Attorney General’s Office and both the House and Senate oversight committees regarding allegations that he had raped a 16-year-old witness during a civil rights case in Utah in 1980.

At the time, the 27-year-old Roberts was an attorney with the Justice Department’s civil rights division. He was dispatched to Salt Lake City to head the federal civil rights prosecution of Joseph Paul Franklin, a white supremacist serial killer who murdered two African-American joggers, Ted Fields and David Martin from an ambush in August 1980.

Terry Mitchell (whose last name at the time was Elrod) had accompanied the two men and a girlfriend during the jog. She was hit by shrapnel but survived. Two months earlier she had been raped by a man named Philip George Moore, which was merely the latest of several such assaults she had endured since childhood. As if the cumulative trauma of those events hadn’t been sufficient, Terry and her family were subjected to hostility and suspicion owing to the fact that the father was involved in a local motorcycle club called the Barons, a fact seized on by some to suggest that Terry had lured the victims into an ambush.

A few weeks after the shooting, Terry fled to Arizona to live with grandparents. She returned the following October to testify in the trial.

During the following January and February, the 27-year-old Roberts sexually exploited the 16-year-old, beginning with an episode in which he lured her into his office on the pretext of reviewing her testimony. Once he had separated the teenager from her mother, Roberts quickly disposed of the fiction that they were going to discuss the case and invited her to dinner.

While Terry was puzzled and concerned and wanted to go home to fix dinner for her younger sisters, “she complied because … Roberts was an authority figure and she had learned to comply with those in positions of authority,” recounts a lawsuit she recently filed against the former judge. With the practiced, methodical patience of a veteran sexual predator, Roberts lured the intimidated girl into his hotel room, where he compelled her to service him sexually, “then raped her twice.”

While maintaining the pretense that he and his victim were engaged in a consensual “affair,” Roberts made it clear that Terry couldn’t disclose what was going on. A mistrial would have resulted, and Franklin – who had yet to be tried for the murders – may have been let loose. If this were to happen, Roberts told his victim, it would be her fault.

After securing Franklin’s conviction, Roberts left, and Terry rarely heard from him again. In 2013, after the serial killer was executed for a murder committed in Missouri, Roberts contacted Terry anew. Terry recorded the phone call and submitted it to investigators for the Utah Attorney General’s office, which verified the substance of her story.

Roberts has admitted to preying upon the then-sixteen-year-old witness, but continues to characterize the matter as a “consensual” affair and a regrettable “lapse in judgment.” Under current state law, the conduct to which Roberts confesses would be statutory rape or perhaps even child molestation. At the time, however, the age of consent was sixteen. Roberts never faced the prospect of serious criminal charges arising from his calculated exploitation of a traumatized and vulnerable girl.

Today (March 22) Roberts has learned that the misconduct case against him has been dropped, meaning that he will be able to enjoy his tax-subsidized pension without being haunted by the specter of personal accountability. This is to be expected: Two decades ago, Roberts performed a valuable service to the Deep State by suppressing evidence of a murder committed on its behalf. Roberts’ behavior in raping a terrified child demonstrated that he possessed the proper disposition to carry out such a task, and those whose secrets he kept have duly rewarded him.