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Jury convicts Cox, one other in Fairbanks militia case

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Posted: Tuesday, June 19, 2012 5:59 pm

ANCHORAGE — A jury on Monday convicted the leader of an Alaska militia group of nine of the 11 counts against him in a federal conspiracy case, including the most serious charge of plotting to kill government employees.

Jurors deliberated for more than two full days before returning a verdict against 28-year-old Schaeffer Cox, head of the Fairbanks-based Alaska Peacemakers Militia. They also convicted militia member Lonnie Vernon, 56, of conspiracy to murder but deadlocked on the same charge for a third member, Coleman Barney, 37.

As U.S. District Court Judge Robert Bryant of Anchorage polled the jurors, Cox looked intently at them, then pulled a microphone to his face.

"The prosecution withheld evidence from you guys!" Cox said. He was admonished by the judge and did not speak again.

Prosecutors had argued that Cox, Vernon and Barney had intended to kill federal officials as they armed themselves for an FBI hit squad they thought might attack Cox at public appearances he made.

"We think it was fair," prosecutor Steven Skrocki said of the verdicts. "We know the jury worked very hard."

All three men were convicted of conspiring to possess unregistered silencers and destructive devices.

Barney also was convicted of possession of an unregistered destructive device, a 37mm projectile launcher loaded with a "hornet's nest" anti-personnel round loaded with rubber pellets. But he was acquitted of two other charges, including a weapons possession charges and a count of carrying firearms during a crime of violence.

Cox was acquitted of two counts of carrying a firearm during a crime of violence. However, besides the two conspiracy charges, he was found guilty of possessing parts to assemble hand grenades, possessing a .22-caliber handgun with a silencer, and of making that silencer.

Cox also was convicted of two counts connected to possessing an unregistered machine gun and solicitation to commit a crime of violence.

Vernon, a foot soldier in the tiny militia, was convicted of conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to possess unregistered silencers and hand grenades. He was acquitted of carrying firearms during a crime of violence.

Defense attorneys contend the men were within their rights to carry weapons to protect Cox. Barney's attorney, Tim Dooley, said he plans to appeal the convictions.

Defense attorneys also say allegations of a murder plan were created by the government to silence Cox, who made speeches they acknowledged were offensive but protected by free speech language in the U.S. Constitution.

Cox feared he was the target of a Colorado-based FBI hit squad, and militia members conducted two meetings about what they planned to do if plainclothes men appeared unannounced at a North Pole television station and started shooting.

Militia members formed a five-member security detail. Barney testified he showed up with an assault rifle equipped with the projectile launcher that loaded with a "hornet's nest" round filled with rubber pellets. But he also said members of the detail were under orders to lay down their guns if Alaska State Troopers showed up to arrest Cox on a state charge. And he said they would not have fired at any law enforcement officer who identified himself.

The only circumstance under which militia members would fire, Barney said, was if men out of uniform showed up without identifying themselves and started shooting.

Bryant set sentencing for Sept. 14.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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