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Fairbanks couple plead guilty to plotting to kill judge, agent

Richard Mauer

A Fairbanks-area couple charged with plotting to kill a federal judge and threatening his family over the outcome of an income tax case has decided to plead guilty, according to a document filed in federal court this week.

The plea notice, filed Thursday, doesn't specify which counts of the eight-count indictment Lonnie and Karen Vernon intend to plead guilty to. The couple, associated with Fairbanks militia leader Schaeffer Cox, will enter their pleas Monday in a hearing in U.S. District Court in Anchorage.

In June, Lonnie Vernon, 56, was found guilty with Cox of amassing illegal weapons and threatening the lives of law enforcement officials and judges. Evidence in the militia trial showed that the Vernons sheltered Cox at their Salcha home when he was a fugitive, though they eventually grew tired of him and demanded that he move.

The Vernon case was related to the militia case but mainly involved a beef over $118,000 in federal taxes that was going to cost them their home. In addition to threatening to kill U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline and his family, the Vernons are also accused of plotting against the life of an IRS agent.

Karen Vernon, 66, wasn't charged in the militia case, but she and her husband were seen in a secretly recorded video purchasing hand grenades and a silencer-equipped pistol from a government informant. The video was a key piece of evidence used by federal prosecutors to secure Lonnie Vernon's conviction on firearms violations.

The Vernons had been scheduled to be tried next month. They had asked that their trial be moved to Tacoma, Wash., asserting that publicity in the militia trial would prejudice an Anchorage jury against them. Prosecutors had opposed the venue change.

Sentencing in the militia cases had been set for after the Vernon trial. Both cases have been heard before a visiting federal judge from Tacoma, Robert Bryan.

Reach Richard Mauer at rmauer@adn.com or 257-4345.


By RICHARD MAUER
Anchorage Daily News