An Alaska militia member convicted of conspiring to kill public officials and of amassing weapons was sentenced Monday to nearly 26 years in prison, when proceedings were disrupted by his frequent and profanity-laden outbursts questioning the authority of the court.
Judge Robert Bryan sentenced Lonnie Vernon, 57, during a nearly hour-long hearing at U.S. District Court in Anchorage on charges of conspiracy to murder federal officials and stockpiling weapons such as silencers and grenades for use in attacks.
In a separate case, Vernon and his wife pleaded guilty in August to planning to kill a federal judge and an Internal Revenue Service officer in a property tax dispute. His sentencing was combined, getting concurrent 310-month terms on the conspiracy charges and 60-months on the weapons charge.
In a far less dramatic hearing later Monday, his wife, Karen Vernon, 67, was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Before she was sentenced, Karen Vernon apologized and said her "words and actions were not intended to harm anyone."
She also apologized "to family and friends for the shame and embarrassment this has all caused, and I mean that. I truly do."
Prosecutors sought more than 15 years for her. Her defense attorney argued for a five-year sentence given her age and lack of criminal history.
Throughout his hearing, Lonnie Vernon was vocal, demanding several times that prosecutors and the judge prove their jurisdiction over him.
"I want to find out who the hell you people really are," Vernon said. "Nobody has proved jurisdiction."
"I reside in the state of Alaska, not in your government realm. I am sovereign," Vernon said.
The militiaman steadfastly maintained his sovereign rights, and asked marshals to arrest prosecutors. "I want you to arrest these people until they prove who they are."
Bryan told him, "This court has jurisdiction over you. If you don't agree with it, you can take it to a higher court."
Vernon responded, "Better yet, let's take it to a lower court. The common law court."
He claimed the case that ensnared him and other militia members was "scripted up" by the FBI and other federal authorities. His outbursts at times include tirades against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Internal Revenue Service, ATF agents and even his own public defenders.
He maintained his innocence, at one point saying he and his family haven't harmed anyone.
"We bothered no one. We tried to make a place of our home for our kids," he said.
He acknowledged he was upset. "You've taken my wife from me, my home from me, my family from me."
Vernon, of Salcha, was a foot soldier in the Alaska Peacekeepers Militia, based in Fairbanks.
The militia was headed by Schaeffer Cox, who also was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and weapons charges. His sentencing is scheduled for Tuesday.
The militia members said they would protect families and property if the federal government collapsed, as members believed could happen with the nation's economic problems after 2008.
Cox came to the attention of the FBI in late 2009 after speeches in Montana that claimed the militia had 3,500 members and was armed with claymore mines and other military weapons. The claim was a gross exaggeration as the group only had about a dozen members.
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 trial attorney, Nelson Traverso, claimed the case was an overreach by prosecutors and an attempt to silence Cox and his offensive but protected speech. Appearing before a state judge, Cox said some militia members would sooner murder her than appear before her. He also told an Alaska State Trooper that his militia had the 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.
The conspiracy to murder, he said during the trial, was manifested by plans Cox made for an armed security detail that Cox solicited to protect him from a Colorado-based FBI hit squad, which officials said doesn't exist.
The Vernons, Cox and another militia member, Coleman Barney, have been jailed since their arrests in March 2011. Barney was sentenced last year to five years in prison on weapons charges.