Alaska militia leader sentenced to nearly 26 years

AP News
Posted: Jan 08, 2013 7:12 PM

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A boyish-looking young man with a soft voice who spewed anti-government rhetoric and amassed weapons in a plot to kill federal law enforcement officials will spend nearly 26 years in a federal prison.

Schaeffer Cox was sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court on nine felony counts, including conspiracy and possessing illegal weapons. The 28-year-old is the third and last member of the Alaska Peacemakers Militia to be sentenced after authorities used an informant to infiltrate the group.

Cox came off at times as arrogant during his trial last spring, but he spoke with a very different demeanor during the two-hour sentencing hearing.

"I put myself here, with my own words," he said, choking back tears. "And I feel horrible about that. And I hurt my family, and that's who is really paying."

Federal prosecutors portrayed Cox as a dangerous militia leader who helped stockpile a huge cache of illegal weapons while plotting a strategy to one day kill judges, state troopers and other government officials.

According to prosecutors, Cox believed his group would eventually need to take up arms against the government, and be sufficiently armed and equipped to sustain a takeover of the government or become a new government in the event of a collapse.

Cox came to the attention of the FBI in late 2009 after speeches in Montana that claimed the Fairbanks militia had 3,500 members and was armed with mines and other military weapons. But the group only had about a dozen members and, as Judge Robert Bryan noted, never trained for military duty.

As the investigation unfolded over more than a year, the FBI eventually used an informant to infiltrate the group. He recorded more than 100 hours of conversations.

Cox's attorney Nelson Traverso claimed during the trial that the case was an overreach by prosecutors and an attempt to silence Cox and his offensive but protected speech.

Cox once told a state judge some militia members would sooner murder her than appear before her, and told an Alaska State Trooper the militia had officers outgunned.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Skrocki said that Cox eventually crossed the line separating offhand comments about killing someone to formulation of plans to do so.

He and others hatched a plan intended to kill two government officials for every one militia member who was killed — a strategy known within the group as "241" or "two for one."

Cox, along with militia foot soldiers Coleman Barney and Lonnie Vernon, have been sentenced in the plot.

Cox's new lawyer, Peter Camiel of Seattle, had him undergo a psychological examination, which indicated Cox suffered from paranoia disorders, which he said could be treated with drugs and counseling.

"I put a lot of people in fear by the things that I said," Cox told the court Tuesday. "Some of the crazy stuff that was coming out of my mouth, I see that, and I sounded horrible.

"I couldn't have sounded any worse if I tried. The more scared I got, the crazier the stuff," he said. "I wasn't thinking, I was panicking."

He took sole credit for any blame, and apologized for putting his wife and two small children, ages 2 and 4, into a position of pain and uncertainty.

He said it was important to him to provide his children both their parents and home where they could grow up.

"I was so scared that something would jeopardize that, that I wound up running right into the very thing I was running away from," he said.

His new tone didn't sway the lead prosecutor in the case.

"Our view of what Mr. Cox said to the court is really contradicted by his actions," said Skrocki, who sought a 35-year term for Cox.

At the end of the trial in June, Bryan said he wrote down observations about Cox, which included: paranoia, grandiosity, narcissism, egocentricity and pathological lying.

He said the paranoia diagnosis from the defense's psychological exam may supply some reasons for some of Cox's actions, "but it does not provide excuses."

And if it is a true diagnosis, Bryan said Cox will need long-term care to treat it, something the judge said he wasn't sure he would get outside jail.

Bryan also noted Cox was never so ill he didn't have followers.

Under previous federal sentencing guidelines no longer in place, Cox would have faced life in prison with no opportunity for the judge to consider a shorter sentence

Murder conspiracy and other charges against the men were thrown out of a state court in October 2011 after a judge ruled audio and video recordings made during the six-month FBI investigation into Cox and the militia were not admissible because they were made without a search warrant, and therefore violated the Alaska Constitution. The FBI has wider authority to obtain warrants, and charges remained in federal court.

Lonnie Vernon was charged with conspiring to kill public officials, amassing weapons and, along with his wife, of planning to kill a federal judge and an Internal Revenue Service official over a tax dispute. On Monday, he received the same sentence as Cox.

Karen Vernon was sentenced to 12 years in prison on Monday.

Barney was sentenced last year to five years in prison on weapons charges.