Judge schedules militia members' trials for early 2012

A federal judge has set tentative trial dates in early 2012 for Fairbanks-area militia members accused of buying illegal weapons and plotting to kill state and federal officials.

Peacemakers Militia leader Schaeffer Cox, 27, appeared in federal court Thursday in Anchorage with co-defendants Lonnie Vernon, 55, and Coleman Barney, 36. The group, described as militia "command staff" in charging documents, spoke by phone with a U.S. District Court judge in Tacoma, Wash.

Judge Robert Bryan scheduled the trial for Feb. 6, 2012, a date he said he hoped would remain "concrete."

Attorneys for the three men had asked for extra time to review thousands of pages of documents and hours of audio recordings, among other evidence that federal prosecutors intend to use during the trial.

"The discovery here isn't voluminous, it's monstrous," said Nelson Traverso, Cox's Fairbanks lawyer.

The judge earlier granted a similar request in a separate case for Vernon and his 64-year-old wife, Karen. The two trials will be held back to back.

When asked if they agreed to waive their right to a speedy trial, Vernon and Coleman offered a simple, "Yes."

Cox gave a lengthier answer.

"Oh, yes," Cox said. "I'm confident this trial will have a favorable outcome for me, and I don't want to create any trouble for my family, so yeah, I'm willing to ride this all out."

Prosecutors wrote in court papers that two undercover informants, working with federal agents for more than 10 months, recorded militia members planning to kill police officers and judges, among others.

The men maintained large weapons caches with which to carry out their plot, according to state and federal charges.

The case against Cox, Barney and Vernon accuses them of possessing illegal weapons, including a machine gun, and buying grenades and pistols with silencers.

Bryan set their trial for February and the Vernons' trial for a month later.

"I don't mind setting these back to back but there is some concern about giving counsel a chance to take a breath," the judge said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Skrocki said federal prosecutors are preparing for a 10-day trial for Cox and the other militia members.