Couple, 2 others charged in militia plot held with no bail

FEDERAL COURT: Safety of the community couldn't be "reasonably" assured.

March 21, 2011 

FAIRBANKS-- A federal judge on Monday ordered a no-bail detainment of Lonnie and Karen Vernon, the Salcha couple charged with plotting to kill a federal judge and two other people.

The judge also ordered two other defendants in the case -- militia leader Francis Schaeffer Cox of Fairbanks and Coleman Barney of North Pole -- held without bail in the case. The two face federal charges of possessing illegal grenades and gun silencers and conspiring to own more.

All four members of the Alaska Peacemakers Militia were arrested March 10.

Meanwhile, state indictments released Monday brought additional charges against those four and a fifth person arrested in a separate plot to kill five state officials. The five, including Michael Anderson of Fairbanks, now each face two charges of conspiracy to commit murder. They had previously been charged with one count each of conspiracy to commit murder.

They were being held on $2 million bail in state court. Anderson, who was also arrested on March 10, has not been charged with any federal crimes.

Also Monday, the state indictments showed a sixth person being charged in the case. Rachel Barney, wife of Coleman Barney, has been charged with harboring a fugitive. Documents allege she hid Cox on Feb. 19 and March 10, the day of the arrests. She has been summoned to appear in state court on April 5.

In federal court Monday morning, each of the four charged by the federal government was separately arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Scott Oravec at the Federal Courthouse in Fairbanks. In each case, Oravec granted U.S. attorney Steven Skrocki's request to keep the defendants in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, because he said no combination of release conditions would "reasonably assure the safety of the community," he said.

During his hearing, Cox questioned the factual accuracy of the report used to determine release conditions.

He also denied the accusations against him -- although he has not yet had an opportunity to formally plead -- and said he is anxious to get his name cleared.

Cox said he has been kept in solitary confinement and has had difficulty contacting his attorney.

U.S. Marshal Randy Coyne said Cox should have access to a phone while in custody, but Cox said the one he has been given does not always work. "Jail isn't known for its customer service," Cox said.

The defendants are being kept at the Fairbanks Correctional Center because there is no federal prison, Coyne said after the hearing.

Lonnie Vernon and Coleman Barney have defense attorneys. Vernon was assigned federal public defender M.J. Haden. Barney chose to hire private attorney Jason Gazewood. Karen Vernon has qualified for a court-appointed attorney but has not been assigned one yet. Cox plans to further discuss his representation in advance of a hearing set for Thursday. In state court he is represented by private attorney Robert John.

The Vernons are in the midst of a two-year federal court battle with the Internal Revenue Service over unpaid taxes and were on the verge of losing their Salcha home to pay debts. The targeted judge, U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline, was presiding in their case.

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