Militia Defendant & Wife Will Change Plea
Lonnie Vernon, one of three defendants in the recent 2-4-1 militia trial, and his wife Karen, are currently charged with an alleged plot to murder a federal judge overseeing a tax case against the couple. According to court documents filed on Thursday, they will be changing their pleas on Monday in U.S. District Court. Of the eight counts against them, it is unclear which plea(s) they will change. There were eight counts filed against Lonnie Vernon including charges of conspiracy to murder federal officials, threatening to murder family members of a federal judge, conspiracy to possess an unregistered firearm and destructive device, and possession of an unregistered machine gun. The charges against Karen Vernon are similar and she will be tried with her husband.
In June Lonnie Vernon, with his co-defendants Schaeffer Cox and Coleman Barney was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder of federal employees, and conspiracy to posses silencers and unregistered destructive devices.
During that trial Vernon’s attorneys tried to get the case dismissed on lack of evidence. “Merely discussing the desirability of criminal acts does not constitute an agreement to commit those acts. We’ve heard a lot of words come out of Mr. Vernon’s mouth, there’s no two ways about it, it was not good what he talked about, what he expressed, but that in itself is not enough,” said his attorney MJ Hayden, in court earlier this summer. It is widely agreed that charges of conspiracy, and the law surrounding them are vague, and it can be difficult to prove a defendant guilty of that type of charge beyond a reasonable doubt.
The prosecution was able to stave off the request for dismissal. Despite the fact that Schaeffer Cox was the most well-known of the three, and that Coleman Barney (a Major) outranked Vernon (a Sergeant) in the militia, the defense stated that, “Of all 3 defendants, Mr. Vernon is the one who is willing to pull the trigger above anyone else,” and that when the Vernons’ arrest happened, “…anyone who would have pulled him over, would have gotten into a firefight with him.”
The new charges against Vernon include conspiracy to murder Judge Ralph Beistline (who presided over a tax case against the Vernons), and an IRS agent. The couple is said to owe approximately $180,000 in taxes, penalties, and interest, and argues that the federal government has no legal right to collect taxes. The Vernons, as the other defendants in the militia trial, were closely associated with the sovereign citizen movement.
Evidence in the form of audio recordings presented at Vernon’s previous trial also included references by himself and others that he had not paid taxes in some time, and was having serious issues with the IRS.
During the trial, it came to light that the Vernons had written 13 letters to family and friends which were found in stamped, addressed envelopes in their car. The content of the letters indicated that if the recipients had received them, it meant the Vernons were dead because of an altercation with authorities. The letters were signed “Karen and Lonnie” in the same handwriting. Vernon’s attorney argued at the time that the letters were irrelevant to that trial which did not address the couple’s issues with the IRS. “If they have meaning it’s about the battle with the IRS,” defense attorney MJ Hayden said. Only portions of the letters were admitted as evidence in the militia trial, with the bulk of the content blacked out.
Lonnie Vernon’s co-defendants Schaeffer Cox, and Coleman Barney have been scheduled to face sentencing this fall.