Fairbanksans React to ‘2-4-1’ Trial Verdicts
FAIRBANKS — Word of a verdict in the Alaska Peacemakers Militia trial spread quickly to Fairbanks Monday afternoon.
Reactions were mixed to the news that the Anchorage jury convicted Schaeffer Cox and Lonnie Vernon of conspiracy to commit murder while deadlocking on this charge for Coleman Barney.
Within a few minutes of the verdict’s announcement, the news had reached the office of Alaska State Trooper Lieutenant Ron Wall, one of the law enforcement officers prosecutors said Cox targeted.
“I think this proves that the system works,” Wall said in reaction to news of the conviction. “It’s probably not perfect, but it’s the best system out there.”
Fairbanks defense attorney Robert John, who represented Cox in an earlier, now-dismissed state of Alaska incarnation of the case, called the verdict “ludicrous.” He said he thought Cox was headed to acquittal on the murder conspiracy charge.
“It’s a sad day for liberty for the First Amendment rights of free speech and free association,” he said. “The government is running this bogus war on domestic terror and it can’t find domestic terrorists, so it goes and creates some.”
Aaron Bennett, a defense witness in trial and owner of Far North Tactical in Fairbanks, said Monday that while he personally dislikes Cox, he was concerned by the way the government investigated.
“The only reason I think it [the verdict] is remotely alarming at all... is what it spells out for everyone else: Yes, the FBI can come here. Yes, the FBI can do whatever they want to anybody. And yes, they can get a guilty verdict on the supposition that they may commit a crime rather than getting criminals that have committed crimes,” he said.
In the trial, Bennett was one of several witnesses who testified that FBI informant Bill Fulton aggressively demanded Cox talk about a supposed plan to kill judges at his store in summer 2010.
Bennett also said Monday it was Cox’s decision to take the witness stand in his own defense that may have cost him the conviction.
“[The prosecutors] were able to produce videos of him talking about killing about people, laughing about it,” he said. “Then the defense was dumb enough, in my opinion, to put him on the stand and tell the jury that he did not really say those things.”
Investigators including the FBI, Alaska State Troopers and Fairbanks police spent about a year investigating Cox and his Peacemakers Militia before arresting Cox and four others on March 10, 2011. At the Fairbanks Police Department Monday afternoon, police Chief Laren Zager had not yet heard the results of the verdict but sounded relieved the jury trial of the complex case was completed.
“It’s a serious, sensitive battle between freedom of speech and association versus hostile acts against the government,” he said. “Those kinds of cases are not only sensitive but are a substantial resource draw.”
Fairbanks North Star Borough Assemblyman and talk show host Michael Dukes said there were several calls about the verdict on his “Michael Dukes Show” on radio station KFAR Monday afternoon. Roughly half the callers thought the jury reached the wrong conclusion, while about half thought Cox had the convictions coming, he estimated.