Salcha Couple Admits to Planning Murder of Federal Judge
FAIRBANKS — A Salcha couple pleaded guilty Monday to planning the murder of government officials at the federal building in Anchorage.
As part of a plea agreement, both Lonnie and Karen Vernon pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder a federal judge. Other charges, including threatening family members of federal employees and — in Lonnie’s case — weapons offenses, will be dismissed under the terms of the plea agreement.
The Associated Press in Anchorage reported Lonnie Vernon had a defiant attitude at the hearing, repeatedly asking U.S. District Judge Robert Bryant if the court had jurisdiction over his wife and him.
The Vernons have been challenging the jurisdiction of the U.S. government and court system since the IRS began investigating them for $165,000 in back taxes. Prosecutors say the couple began planning to kill an IRS employee and U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline. The Vernons claimed they were “sovereign citizens” not subject to taxation, an argument Beistline had rejected as frivolous.
“How can we be thrown away as trash?” Lonnie Vernon said at Monday’s hearing, the AP reported. “We have not bothered no one in our lives.”
Bryant accepted the plea agreements.
Prosecutors have agreed to ask for a prison sentence of no more than 15 2/3 years for Karen Vernon, 66, under the plea agreement.
For Lonnie Vernon, 56, attorneys have agreed to a sentence of between 22 5/6 and 27 1/4 years for this case and another murder conspiracy case. Lonnie Vernon was convicted of plotting the killing of other federal officials in July as part of his involvement with co-defendants Coleman Barney and Schaeffer Cox through Cox’s group the Alaska Peacemaker’s Militia. A jury trial in that case lasted more than a month at the Anchorage courthouse.
According to information in the plea agreement, the coupled admitted they discussed their plans to kill the government employee with a confidential informant, purchased weapons and made maps with the intention of killing Beistline.
Both Vernons were arrested March 10, 2011, after buying grenades and a silencer from an FBI informant in a sting operation.
Identical letters to friends and family, found in their vehicle, said they thought they might die in their struggle with the U.S. government.
“We will not freely give our home, land and personal property to this tyrant, nor will we die cowards, licking their jack-boots,” it read it in part.