Following a resentencing hearing that saw his jail time reduced by more than a decade, former Fairbanks-based militia-leader Schaeffer Cox is now seeking a retrial on one of the eight charges of which he was found guilty: conspiracy to murder federal officials.
Cox has served a little over eight years of the 188-month sentence that he was given by a federal judge at the hearing on Nov 5-6. That sentence was reduced from 27 years.
Cox was a public speaker and organizer in Fairbanks who ran for the Legislature in 2008. He later organized several groups, including a small armed force called the Alaska Peacemakers Militia; a firearms rights group called the Second Amendment Task Force that held large rallies in Fairbanks; and the Alaska Assembly Post, a court convened by Cox in the back of the Fairbanks Denny’s restaurant.
Cox was arrested in 2011, along with a group of his supporters, on charges that they had made plans to kill federal employees, including U.S. Department of Homeland Security employees. An Anchorage jury convicted Cox of multiple crimes, including soliciting and conspiring to commit murder and owning various illegal weapons.
In 2017, a federal appeals court reversed the count of solicitation to murder, which resulted in the resentencing hearing that took place last week. Cox is now heading back to the U.S 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in the hopes that his most serious upheld conviction — conspiracy to murder federal officials — also may be overturned.
Michael Filipovic, a federal public defender based in Seattle who is representing Cox, said Cox is not appealing his sentence but rather the denial of a motion previously filed solely regarding the conspiracy to murder conviction.
Filipovic was referring to a November 2018 motion for what is called “a writ of audita querela," which is when a defendant seeks a new judgment when new evidence or a new defense arises.
In short, Filipovic explained, the defense opines that when the 9th Circuit reversed Cox’s conviction of solicitation of murder in 2017, the decision threw another of his convictions into question. According to a court filing, the court decided to reverse the count of solicitation for murder “because the federal ‘hit team’ that the security team was supposed to guard against [at the television station KJNP] did not exist.”
Filipovic said that, because prosecutors used the same arguments to achieve a conviction for the count of conspiracy to murder, the justification for dismissing one count leaves the other in question.
“There’s really no longer a basis for concluding that there was a unanimous jury verdict on the conspiracy count,” Filipovic said, “because the government went forward with three theories for that count — including the fictitious hit-team theory, which, in our view, can no longer be used for the conspiracy count. Therefore, Mr. Cox should get a new trial on that specific count.”
According to a Feb. 26, 2019 court filing, the original motion for a “writ of audita querela" was denied by a federal judge on various grounds, including the fact that “the elements of the solicitation count and the conspiracy to murder count are very different.”
This, however, is not deterring Cox or the lawyer defending him. Filipovic said that Cox was "very grateful for how the (resentencing) hearing was conducted and how the judge was very fair in how he handled the hearing."
Contact staff writer Alistair Gardiner at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.