It took a day's work Monday to seat a 12-member jury plus four alternates in the trial of three Fairbanks militia members accused of federal weapons violations and plotting to kill judges and law enforcement personnel.
The nine women and seven men selected from the sprawling pool covering most of Southcentral Alaska will hear opening statements Tuesday morning in the case against Schaeffer Cox and two of his militant pals, Coleman Barney and Lonnie Vernon. The case is being heard in U.S. District Court in Anchorage before a visiting federal judge from Tacoma, Wash., Robert Bryan.
Substantial pretrial publicity in the case and concern that Alaskans' fondness for weapons and dislike of federal authority could confound the search for an impartial jury led court officials to start with an exceptionally large panel -- 88 people. Most were from Anchorage, but the Mat-Su Valley was well represented, as was the Kenai Peninsula. Others came from Valdez and Sand Point.
In the end, though, the biggest hurdle in selecting the jury was the projected length of the trial -- six to eight weeks. More than half the potential jurors raised their hands when Bryan asked if a trial lasting till July would be a hardship, substantially more than the number who said they belonged to the NRA.
The three defendants have been in custody since they were arrested in a series of raids around Fairbanks on March 10, 2011. All eight counts in their indictment concern weapons violations, though one, conspiracy, says the silencers, grenades, machineguns and other weapons they possessed or were attempting to buy were for the Armageddon they were expecting.
Cox also saw himself as part of the "sovereign citizen" movement and claimed that state courts had no jurisdiction over him. Rather than answer a state misdemeanor weapons charge, Cox once organized a court with jurors who met at the Denny's restaurant in Fairbanks and acquitted him.
"The illegal firearms, machine guns, destructive devices, and firearms silencers were also possessed with the intent to thwart any effort by law enforcement from taking Cox into custody and were similarly possessed in furtherance of Cox's stated belief that no governmental law, state or federal, applied to him due to his status as a sovereign citizen," the indictment said.
Federal authorities used two undercover operatives to make their case, a contractor named Gerald "J.R." Olson, who was trying to get leniency on state charges related to his business, and Bill Fulton, former owner of the Drop Zone surplus store in Anchorage. Prosecutors said they intend to call Olson to testify, but not Fulton, who may be subpoenaed by the defense.
Reach Richard Mauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4345.