ANCHORAGE — The leader of a self-described militia group was sentenced Tuesday to serve nearly 26 years in prison following his conviction on nine felonies, including conspiring to murder public officials.
U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan sentenced Schaeffer Cox, 28, during a two-hour hearing at U.S. District Court in Anchorage.
Cox’s sentence came a day after another foot soldier in the Alaska Peacekeepers Militia, 57-year-old Lonnie Vernon, received the same sentence.
Before he was sentenced, Cox broke down several times, grabbing tissues and fighting back tears.
“I put myself here, with my own words,” he said before pausing. “And I feel horrible about that.”
Cox came to the attention of the FBI in late 2009 after speeches in Montana that claimed the Fairbanks militia had 3,500 members and was armed with mines and other military weapons. But the group only had about a dozen members and, as Bryan noted, never trained for military duty.
As the investigation unfolded over more than a year, the FBI eventually used an informant to infiltrate the group. He recorded more than 100 hours of conversations.
Cox’s attorney Nelson Traverso claimed during the trial that the case was an overreach by prosecutors and an attempt to silence Cox and his offensive but protected speech.
Cox once told a state judge some militia members would sooner murder her than appear before her, and told an Alaska State Trooper the militia had officers outgunned.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Skrocki said that Cox eventually crossed the line separating offhand comments about killing someone to formulation of plans to do so.
Prosecutors said the group hatched a “2-for-1” plan — killing two law enforcement officials for every militia member killed — an idea another convicted member, Coleman Barney, acknowledged at his trial was discussed twice but never put into play. Group members also amassed silencers and grenades.
A psychological exam ordered by Cox’s new attorney, Peter Camiel of Seattle, after he was convicted showed Cox suffered from several paranoid disorders.
“I put a lot of people in fear by the things that I said,” Cox told the court Tuesday. “Some of the crazy stuff that was coming out of my mouth, I see that, and I sounded horrible.
“I couldn’t have sounded any worse if I tried,” he said. “The more scared I got, the crazier the stuff. I wasn’t thinking, I was panicking.”
The government sought a sentence of 35 years, while Camiel was seeking a much shorter sentence and to allow Cox’s mental condition to be treated with drugs and counseling.
At the end of the trial in June, Bryan said he wrote down observations about Cox, which included: paranoia, grandiosity, narcissism, egocentricity and pathological lying.
He said the paranoia diagnosis from the defense’s psychological exam may supply some reasons for some of Cox’s actions, “but it does not provide excuses.”
And if it is a true diagnosis, Bryan said he will need long-term care to treat it, something the judge said he wasn’t sure Cox would get outside jail.
Bryan also noted Cox was never so ill he didn’t have followers.
Vernon was charged with conspiring to kill public officials, amassing weapons and, along with his wife, of planning to kill a federal judge and an Internal Revenue Service official over a tax dispute.
Karen Vernon was sentenced to 12 years in prison on Monday.
Barney was sentenced last year to five years in prison on weapons charges.