FAIRBANKS - A state magistrate set bail at $2 million for Schaeffer Cox, the Fairbanks man accused with four others in a plot to kill several people involved in Alaska law enforcement.
Cox, 26, and the others were arraigned in state court in Fairbanks today.
Bail was set at $2 million apiece for Coleman Barney of North Pole, Michael Anderson of 14 mile Elliott Highway and Karen and Lonnie Vernon of Salcha.
Lonnie Vernon called the 17-page criminal complaint “hearsay on paper. ” None of the others spoke much beyond answering basic questions from Magistrate Alicemary Rasley about their ability to hire an attorney and how long they had lived in the Fairbanks area.
The five, who were arrested Thursday, face several state charges, including conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and other crimes.
Lonnie Vernon was also arraigned earlier in the day in federal court on charges of threatening to kill U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline and a member of Beistline’s immediate family. Vernon was charged in federal court with threatening to kill Beistline, the chief judge for the U.S. District Court in Alaska, “in the fulfillment of his duties.”
A federal charging document says the threats against Beistline and a member of his family were made on or about Feb. 4 of this year “and continuing” through Feb. 16. The charging document says the threats were “in retaliation for and on account of” Beistline’s rulings against the Vernon and his wife in a federal income tax evasion case. The government says the couple owes about $166,000 back taxes and has attempted to seize their home to satisfy the debt.
The arraignments of the five began in state court just before 3 p.m. Each appeared in court individually by video, the usual practice for arraignments, but were seen on the monitor accompanied by a stronger-than-usual security presence.
The defendants will enter pleas to the charges at a later date.
The five accused in the state case reportedly made “Wanted Dead or Alive” posters with the faces of Capt. Burke Barrick, commander of the trooper detachment based in Fairbanks, trooper Lt. Ron Wall, Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy, Assistant District Attorney Arne Soldwedel and Fairbanks state court administrator Ron Woods, according to the criminal complaint.
The group reportedly stockpiled weapons around Fairbanks and conducted surveillance on the homes of the troopers.
Officers and agents from several local, state and federal agencies made coordinated raids Thursday afternoon to roundup the five alleged conspirators. All were reportedly arrested without incident.
At Cox’s arraignment, his attorney, Robert John, argued Cox should be allowed to have firearms in his home if he manages to post bail and be released. John said Cox needed to be armed “so he is not a sitting duck for people who may come after him.”
Rasley wasn’t convinced. “Another judge might choose to allow firearms. Not me,” she said.
Earlier Friday, Lonnie Vernon appeared in federal court wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. He is the only one of the five arrested Thursday to be charged with a federal crime.
Assistant U.S. attorney Steven Skrocki told Magistrate Scott Oravec that Lonnie Vernon is “not of the belief system” that typically follows court orders and should not be released. He said Vernon had harbored a fugitive — though he did not name the fugitive — and had weapons, including a machine gun. Skrocki noted that the possession of the weapons was, by itself, not a crime.
Federal public defender M.J. Haden entered the pleas of not guilty on behalf of Vernon, who spoke openly only regarding his name and address.
A detention hearing was set for 12:30 p.m. Thursday.
Reached by phone after the hearing, Anchorage-based U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler declined to discuss details of the case that aren’t currently available in public court documents.
Rick Svobodny, a deputy state attorney general, said the Department of Law, including the Fairbanks District Attorney’s office, has worked with the various law enforcement agencies over the last several weeks in “obtaining search warrants for conversations and physical items relating to these people as they related to the charges — conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to commit kidnapping.”
Svobodny said the case “does involve weapons at different places around Fairbanks."
Svobodny said state and federal agencies shared much of the responsibility in the weeks leading to the arrests.
“It was a joint investigation,” he said.
Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Staff writer Chris Eshleman in Juneau contributed to this report.