Salcha Man Convicted in '241' Case Wants Upcoming Trial Moved Out of Alaska
FAIRBANKS — A Salcha man convicted along with Fairbanks militia leader Schaeffer Cox in the “241” murder conspiracy case has asked to have his trial in a second murder conspiracy case moved to Washington state, citing extensive negative publicity in Alaska.
Lonnie Vernon is scheduled to go on trial next month in Anchorage on several charges related to his alleged threat to kill an Internal Revenue Service agent and U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline, who was presiding over a tax case against Vernon and his wife, Karen. The couple failed to pay taxes for several years, arguing in part that the IRS has no authority to collect taxes because authorization was never properly published in the Federal Register.
The Vernons owed about $180,000 in taxes, interest and penalties.
Among the eight counts filed against Lonnie Vernon are charges of conspiracy to murder federal officials, threatening to murder family members of a federal judge, conspiracy to possess an unregistered firearm and destructive device, and possession of an unregistered machine gun. Karen Vernon is charged with similar crimes and will be tried alongside her husband this fall.
Karen Vernon’s attorney on Friday filed a motion joining the request to move the trial to Washington.
Lonnie Vernon’s attorney, Assistant Federal Defender M.J. Haden, said media coverage of the previous trial that led to the convictions of Cox, Vernon and North Pole resident Coleman Barney on a variety of charges not connected with those linked to the Vernons’ tax case makes it impossible for Vernon to receive a fair trial in the second conspiracy case.
Haden, in a request filed Thursday in federal court in Anchorage, said the publicity of the first case “has caused irreparable harm in tainting the pool of prospective jurors” throughout Alaska. She noted that the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, the Anchorage Daily News, the Alaska Dispatch website and television stations together produced hundreds of stories about the trial.
She called the media coverage “precedent-setting” for Anchorage.
“The events of the previous trial have certainly colored the community’s perception in Alaska as far as Mr. Vernon is concerned,” Haden wrote. “He has been branded by the press as a domestic terrorist and has been characterized as a tax protester who has no respect for the federal government.”
Haden said media coverage of the first trial, held in Anchorage and lasting six weeks, described Vernon, Cox and Barney as “homegrown terrorists” ready to carry out a “bloody revolution” to overthrow the government.
Lonnie Vernon’s sentencing on a murder conspiracy and one other charge in the case involving Cox has been postponed until conclusion of the second trial.
Sentencing for Cox, meanwhile, was postponed to Nov. 13 on Thursday by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Bryan, who also is presiding over the case against the Vernons. Barney has asked that his sentencing be postponed until the Vernons’ change of venue request has been decided. Jurors in the first case deadlocked on the murder conspiracy charge against Barney but convicted him on two weapons charges. Prosecutors decided not to retry Barney on the murder conspiracy charge.
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