FAIRBANKS — Grand jury indictments are expected by Monday in state court for the five Interior residents accused of plotting retaliatory killings of Alaska State Troopers, according to attorneys and officials.
Francis “Schaeffer” Cox, 27; Michael Anderson, 35; Coleman Barney, 36; Lonnie Vernon, 55; and his wife Karen Vernon, 66, are being held at Fairbanks Correctional Facility on $2 million bail.
They face charges of conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping. Individuals in the group also face additional charges, including weapons misconduct and tampering with evidence.
A federal grand jury also has indicted Lonnie Vernon for allegedly threatening to kill U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline and his family.
Under state criminal rules, an indictment must be brought within 10 days of an arrest on a felony charge. The five were arrested March 10.
A state grand jury could change or reject all of the state charges, said Fairbanks attorney Robert John, who is representing Cox.
John said he’s concerned about public perception of the case.
“The law is founded on the presumption of innocence,” he said. “In contrast, in this case there has been much prejudgment in the media and elsewhere. I would encourage people as good citizens to withold their judgment until the true facts are revealed.”
Some media reports about Cox’s arrest drew the attention of former U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller of Fairbanks.
On Sunday, Miller disputed a Reuters article written Friday that said Cox has “identified himself as a good friend and associate” of Miller.
In a public e-mail message, Miller said he “became acquainted with Mr. Cox through Republican Party politics, not unlike many other state leaders.” He said Cox did not contribute or volunteer for his U.S. Senate campaign.
Most of the public information revealed about the case is found in a five-page criminal complaint against Anderson and a 17-page complaint against the other four.
The alleged murder and kidnappings plans were made during “command staff” meetings of Cox’s Peacemakers Militia, which were secretly recorded by the FBI, according to the charging documents. The documents do not describe the warrants used to obtain the recordings or how they were made.
The documents describe a plan Cox and the others called “241” (two for one), which was to be used if any militia members were arrested. The group planned to kidnap two law enforcement officials for every militia member arrested, the document states. In the event of a militia member being killed or a home being taken in any potential conflict, the group planned to slay twice as many officials or burn twice as many homes, according to the document.
The group had stockpiled weapons, including one fully automatic automatic assault rifle, two tripod machine guns, multiple pineapple grenades allegedly stolen from Fort Wainwright, at least one grenade launcher and “dozens of high-powered” assault rifles and pistols, according to the charging document.
The group had 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 recordings were reportedly made both before and after a state district court issued a warrant or Cox’s arrest last month. The court issued the warrant after Cox did not show up at a Feb. 14 jury trial for a misdemeanor weapons charge from last year.
Cox stayed at the Vernons’ home in Salcha for part of his time while Cox was wanted, according to the charging document. He later went to stay with Barney in the North Pole area after Lonnie Vernon expressed frustration with harboring a fugitive, according to the document.
Norm Olson, leader of The Alaska Citizens Militia in Nikiski on the Kenai Peninsula, said he was concerned about the use of federal law enforcement in the investigation of Fairbanks militia leaders. Olson has spoken out in the past in support of Cox and in his conflicts with Alaska courts.
“I will always be suspicious of information that comes when the federals are involved,” he said by e-mail. “I may be wrong, but I think Schaeffer was set up.”
Olson said he is concerned Cox will be sent to a federal prison in Sheridan, Ore., and be given medication that will turn his mind “to Jell-o.”
Cox does not face any federal charges.
Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545