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A state judge in Alaska has ruled that more than 100 hours of audio and video surveillance is inadmissible in the trial of Schaeffer Cox, the boyish militia leader who was arrested last year after stockpiling weapons in connection to a plot to kidnap or kill state troopers and a Fairbanks judge.
Superior Court Judge David Stewart said the audio and video recordings produced during a six-month FBI investigation violated the Alaska state constitution because they were made without a search warrant. While Monday’s ruling damages the state’s case, it has no bearing on federal weapons charges faced by Cox and his accomplices.
According to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, prosecutors argued that the recordings should be allowed during trial because the informants were working for the FBI, which did not need a warrant under federal law. Cox’s defense attorney thought otherwise.
“You really have to see the grand jury testimony to see how much of their case relies on this,” Cox’s attorney Robert John said. “This whole investigation was driven by the recording. Does everything just have to go now because everything is tainted? That’s something that will have to be hashed out in court.”
The court’s decision to bar the recordings has the potential to offer an irreparable blow to the state’s case, where Cox faces far more serious charges, including kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder.
Cox, who self-identifies as a “sovereign citizen,” believes that the government has no authority over him or his fellow sovereigns. The antigovernment movement has grown dramatically in recent years, with no signs of slowing as more and more people look for answers in a punishing economy and turn to the movement’s extraordinary promises.
At the time of his arrest in March, investigators charged that Cox and his compatriots had begun “extensive surveillance on troopers in the Fairbanks area … specifically on the location of the home for two troopers.” Cox’s Alaska Peacemakers Militia had also begun acquiring a large cache of weapons, many of which are prohibited by state or federal law.
The ruling hinges on a marked distinction between federal and state law. While federal law allows the Justice Department to have confidential sources record conversations without a warrant, Alaska does not. The problem, the judge found, was that state investigators used warrantless FBI recordings – a violation in Alaska.
“It’s kind of mind boggling that this went on for six months,” John said. “It’s not like they were recording a single conversation. They were recording his whole life. It’s almost like the movie ‘The Truman Show.’”