Judge Rules Searches Were Legal in Fairbanks ‘241’ Militia Case
Not enough issues with search warrants
FAIRBANKS — A federal judge sided with prosecutors in the case against three Fairbanks-area militia members Wednesday, ruling that two searches that uncovered many of the weapons central to the case were legal.
The ruling is the latest setback for defense attorneys trying to challenge evidence against Schaeffer Cox, Coleman Barney and Lonnie Vernon, who are scheduled to go to trial in May on charges of planning to kill federal employees and owning illegal weapons.
In court filings and during a two-day evidentiary hearing last month in Anchorage, Tim Dooley, the attorney for defendant Coleman Barney, tried to challenge the search warrant used to search Barney’s North Pole area home and a trailer left in the parking lot of the World Ice Art Championships last year. He argued prosecutors behaved recklessly by depending on Gerald “JR” Olson, a convicted felon who received a lower sentence by helping the FBI infiltrate Cox’s Peacemaker’s militia.
Prosecutors argued investigators were able to verify Olson’s work by listening to recordings he made and by confirming his reports with a second informant, Anchorage gun store owner and bodyguard Bill Fulton.
Unlike a number of evidentiary challenges District Court Judge Robert J. Bryan rejected in court in Anchorage, he asked for more time and more information on the search warrant issue. Eventually, he concluded there were not enough problems with the FBI’s search warrant request to throw out the fruits of the search.
“With the mass of information before him [FBI] Special Agent Westerhaus had to draw some inferences and make some interpretations in preparing the affidavits [to request a search warrant],” he said. “His interpretations and inferences were reasonable under the totality of the information and circumstances known to him.”
Defense attorneys were more successful in challenging the legality of evidence in a related case in state court last fall. That case, which accused these defendants and two others of planning to kill state officials, was thrown out by state prosecutors after a state judge ruled the audio and video recordings made by the informants were not admissible as evidence in state court. Unlike they physical searches, prosecutors did not request warrants before making the recordings.
Contact News-Miner staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545 or firstname.lastname@example.org.