ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - The leader of an anti-government militia in Alaska who proclaimed that “God’s law” trumps “man’s law” was sentenced on Tuesday to nearly 26 years in prison for a plot to kill government employees he portrayed as his enemies.
Schaeffer Cox, the 28-year-old leader of the Alaska Peacekeepers Militia and a onetime candidate for the Alaska House of Representatives, apologized through tears for his actions.
“Well, I put myself here, with my own words, and I feel horrible about that, and I hurt my family, and that’s who’s really paying, and I feel horrible about that,” he said at a hearing in federal court in Anchorage.
“I put a lot of people in fear by the things I said and the crazy stuff that was coming out of my mouth,” he said.
Cox was convicted last summer of conspiring to murder federal and state government officials, including judges and law enforcement agents, soliciting others to commit murder and related weapons charges.
Evidence included a cache of illegal weapons, detailed lists of potential targets, testimony of government informants and tape recordings of speeches and meetings, some made secretly.
During the trial, Cox spent two days on the witness stand, at times confidently telling the jury his philosophy and likening himself to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Ghandi.
He testified that he sincerely believed government agents were planning to kill him and that he was justified in taking steps to defend his family against the police.
But at Tuesday’s sentencing, Cox disavowed many of those stances. He and his attorney cited a post-trial psychological evaluation that concluded Cox was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, delusions and a paranoid personality disorder.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Bryan, who imposed the sentence, said he agreed Cox probably was mentally ill but that did not excuse his actions.
“I want to note that he has never been so ill as to not be able to have followers and convince people to follow him,” Bryan said. The 310-month sentence falls well short of the life term Cox could have received.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Skrocki, who described Cox as a “master manipulator,” said he was “comfortable” with the sentence, even though prosecutors had been seeking 35 years.
“Our view of what Mr. Cox said to the court is thoroughly contradicted by his actions,” Skrocki told reporters after the sentencing hearing, noting those actions included putting longtime family friends “on a hit list.”
Cox’s sentence was the same as that imposed on Monday on one of his followers, Fairbanks-area resident Lonnie Vernon, who was convicted of murder conspiracy and weapons charges. Vernon’s 66-year-old wife Karen, got 12 years for her role in the plot.
A fourth defendant, Coleman Barney, 38, was sentenced in September to five years in prison for weapons charges.
Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker