Co-Defendant in Alaska Militia Case Gets Five-Year Sentence

As he sits in jail awaiting sentencing in November, Alaska Peacemaker Militia leader Francis Schaeffer Cox may now be a bit more worried about his fate.

A co-defendant, Coleman Barney – found by an Alaska federal jury to be the least culpable in a murder-conspiracy plot hatched by Schaeffer and members of his militia – was sentenced Monday to five years in prison.

“You got into really bad stuff here,” visiting U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan told the 38-year-old Barney, the Anchorage Daily News reported in today’s editions.

Barney, of the small town of North Pole, was a “major” in Cox’s militia, which plotted to kill a judge and law enforcement officers – only to be caught in an FBI sting involving two informants. Barney was convicted of only one count – possession of an unregistered destructive device.

Cox, 28, of Fairbanks, and Lonnie Vernon, 56, of Salcha, Alaska, were convicted of conspiracy to murder and are scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 19 in Anchorage.

Cox, who faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, also was convicted of conspiracy to possess illegal weapons, two counts of possessing unregistered destructive devices, possession of an unregistered machine gun, illegal possession of a machine gun, illegally making a silencer and illegal possession of a silencer.

Before sentencing, Barney apologized and said he got caught up in antigovernment hype and said things he didn’t mean. A member of the Mormon church, he said he loved his country and that the militia started out as a group of “wonderful Christian men” who wanted to protect their families in case of a government collapse, The Associated Press reported.

“I just beg you to help me get back to my home and my family,” he told the judge, asking to be sentenced to time he has already served since his arrest on March 10, 2011. Federal prosecutors asked the judge to sentence Barney to 10 years in prison.

The judge said during the trial he heard things that were chilling on tapes of militia conversations that were secretly recorded. The judge also took note of what wasn’t said. At no time did he hear Barney tell Cox the murder-and-illegal firearms plot was wrong, the Anchorage newspaper reported.

The judge also talked about First and Second Amendment aspects of the case. “This was not a well-regulated militia,” Bryan said, referring to language in the Second Amendment, but rather a “disorganized group of individuals.”

The judge also said the case wasn’t about free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. “In this country, we not only allow anti-government speech, we welcome it,” he said. “This case is about violation of our criminal laws.”