Fairbanks militia leader to be resentenced after partial appeal victory
A federal appeals court has vacated one of Fairbanks militia leader Schaeffer Cox’s convictions at his 2012 trial, saying the evidence on which a jury found him guilty wasn’t sufficient to do so.
A three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated Cox’s conviction on a count of solicitation to murder a federal official, one of nine felonies on which he was found guilty, but affirmed his conviction for conspiracy to murder a federal official. The judges also vacated Cox’s full sentence of nearly 26 years in the case, pending resentencing on all counts.
Cox and other members of the Alaska Peacemakers Militia were arrested by federal authorities in 2011, on charges that they had engaged in a “241” plot to kill two federal officials in retaliation for each militia member killed.
In its six-page decision, issued Tuesday, the judges found that “no rational trier of fact” could conclude that Cox intended the formation of a security team for an event to indicate that he intended for someone to commit murder. In addition, a federal “hit team” the security force was supposed to protect against didn’t exist, so any suggestion that one of its members be murdered didn’t constitute a sufficient threat to a federal official for federal jurisdiction.
“The error affected [Cox’s] substantial rights and seriously affected the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of a judicial proceeding, and we will correct it,” judges wrote.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Skrocki said Wednesday afternoon that Cox was set to serve his sentences on the other counts consecutively, making it unlikely that Tuesday’s decision would significantly alter his prison time.
“We’ll have to see what the court does, but we expect the sentence to remain unchanged,” Skrocki said. “Because of the conspiracy to commit murder (conviction) being upheld, we are not going to appeal the Ninth Circuit on the solicitation count.”
Cox’s appeal also challenged what he considered deficient instructions to the jury at his trial, as well as district court evidentiary rulings and whether the evidence on which he was convicted of the conspiracy charge was sufficient. None of those were considered by the appeals panel, however, to be clearly in error or significant enough to order any changes.
The judges remanded Cox’s case to a lower court for resentencing, in light of the vacated solicitation conviction.