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Attorney seeks evaluation for 'delusional' Schaeffer Cox

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- A lawyer representing Schaeffer Cox says the former leader of a small Fairbanks militia is mentally ill and will “eventually reject the advice of any new counsel if counsel does not fully accept Mr. Cox’s delusions as true.”

Cox, who is jailed in a federal penitentiary in Illinois and serving a 26-year sentence for conspiracy to commit murder and weapons violations, is trying to fire attorney Suzanne Lee Elliott.

The 29-year-old Cox claims he needs a new court-appointed lawyer because Elliott does not want to “rock the boat” or challenge the government as part of his appeal before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Cox asked that Robert John of Fairbanks be named to replace Elliott and pursue his allegations that government corruption is the source of Cox’s legal troubles.

Elliott, who is from Seattle, filed court papers last week saying Cox “is motivated by his mental illness, which prevents him from acting in his own best interests in this appeal.” She said a lengthy statement Cox filed with the court Dec. 11 is “simply an outgrowth of the delusions Mr. Cox testified to at trial.”

Cox said he is a victim of a government conspiracy. He is preoccupied with the notion that the government targeted him for death, with what she referred to as a “phantom hit squad,” because of his political beliefs, Elliott said.

“As soon as his counsel challenges these perceptions, he rejects counsel’s advice and becomes convinced that counsel has become part of the plot against him,” she wrote.

Elliott filed a request clarifying an earlier statement filed under seal about her reasons for wanting a competency hearing. 

“Any new counsel will soon be falsely accused of refusing to ‘rock the boat.’ This is why it is so important to determine Mr. Cox’s competency now,” she said.

She challenged the letters in which Cox claims he faked mental illness at sentencing in the hope of not getting a life sentence.

First, she said, he received two diagnostic tests to determine his mental state.

“Second, and most telling, he told the evaluator precisely the same set of facts he has asserted on the covert audiotapes and that he testified to at trial,” she said, about government agents who sought to kill him.

The evaluator said that “in listening to Mr. Cox it was clear he was unable to distinguish between fact and fantasy,” Elliott wrote. The analyst said that despite having been in jail for more than a year, Cox did not "grasp the concerns that had been presented in his case."

“In short, Mr. Cox feigned nothing at his evaluation. He simply revealed the same delusional thinking that he as been exhibiting since at least 2010.”

She said that there is some reason to hope that once Cox is diagnosed and treated he will be able to assist in his appeal. His most recent pleading “demonstrates that his current incompetency will negatively impact his appeal proceedings.”

The U.S. attorney said the court may want to consider the request for a new attorney, but the government would oppose the request for a competency hearing.

Contact Dermot Cole at dermot(at)alaskadispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcole