Militia Leader Cox Gets 25 Years
“Well, this proves one thing. Schaeffer Cox can still draw a crowd.” Reporter Michael Carey made the observation while sitting next to me on a wooden bench in the lobby outside Courtroom 2 in the federal courthouse in Anchorage this morning. It’s true.
At the end of the day, Cox will be sentenced to 25 years, 10 months in prison, and his new lawyer will reveal the results of a recent psychological evaluation that diagnoses him for the first time as a paranoid schizophrenic, with paranoid personality disorder, and delusional personality disorder.
But as the day begins, the courtroom is almost at capacity before Cox is even in the room. There are more than 40 people here, including Cox’s wife Marti, and his parents, other attorneys and courtroom personnel, friends and supporters, curious spectators, and media.
Schaeffer Cox, the freckle-faced 28-year old father of two who founded Fairbanks’ Second Amendment Task Force, and the Alaska Peacemakers Militia, enters in white t-shirt and yellow prison jumpsuit. Before the trial, he was known for sporting a signature tweed newsboy cap. His large eyes scan the crowd searching for family. He locates them and gives a small wan smile. He looks unwell – tired and very pale, and like he’s had no sleep. I think he’s lost some weight since the summer.
This is the last day of a long process in which Cox was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder of federal officials, and a string of weapons charges including possession of an illegal machine gun, conspiracy to obtain destructive devices in the form of grenades, and unregistered silencers. His co-defendant in the case, Lonnie Vernon, was also sentenced to 25 years, 10 months yesterday. The third co-defendant, Coleman Barney was the only one of the three not found guilty on conspiracy to commit murder, was sentenced to five years on weapons charges in September.
Cox’s “militia,” which was really an unorganized band of those angry with the federal government, and battling personal demons. Vernon was guilty of conspiring to kill a judge and IRS agents with whom he had disputes, and whom he expected to seize his home. Cox’s troubles began with a domestic violence charge that prompted officials to seek an interview with the Cox’s child. He believed with increasing certainty that the government was out to get him, and kill his family, resulting in Cox commissioning surveillance of police officers, and government officials ranging from a TSA agent, to Troopers, to federal judges. They conspired to kill or kidnap two federal officials for every one militia member who was killed or arrested – two for one – code name 241.
I wonder what Cox will have to say. He testified for two full days in his own defense, exhibiting what the judge characterized later as “narcissism, grandiosity, paranoia and egocentricity.” Cox’s jaw is set, and he sits quietly next to his new attorney, Peter Camiel, a balding man in a grey suit who leans over and whispers to him as they look at paperwork on the table. Cox, unhappy with his representation, fired Nelson Traverso, the attorney who plead his case during trial, shortly after the jury reached a verdict.
There is no conversation in the courtroom. None. A few sniffles, the scratch of a sketch artist’s pencil, and a very occasional soft whisper. Cox continues to scan the crowd, looking for familiar faces, or just trying to identify those in the gallery. He doesn’t miss much.
Everyone bolts up to stand at attention as the folding seats clatter and wobble behind them.
Judge Robert Bryan of Tacoma, Washington has come to Alaska to hear the case. He asks Cox if he has read the relevant paperwork.
“Yes, I have your honor.” Cox is deferential, respectful, and subdued – a far cry from the open hostility of his co-defendant, Lonnie Vernon, just the day before. Vernon railed at the prosecutors, the FBI, and the court, in one profanity-laced tirade after another during his own sentencing.
First, the judge will determine application of the sentencing guidelines. As of a few years ago, the sentencing guidelines weren’t really guidelines. If this sentencing had happened then, the conspiracy charge would have brought about a life sentence for Cox, and the judge would not have had discretion to modify it.
“A lot of people are interested in this matter,” Bryan noted, making reference to the publicity and notoriety of the case with militia supporters and second amendment advocates, as well as those who are concerned about the frightening behavior exhibited. “The guideline issues are sometimes tedious but we have to go through this.”
A number of objections to the guideline workup and the pre-sentencing report were filed by the defense, and must be resolved. The judge goes through the objections one by one and determines whether they add points, or remove points from the numerical designation that will indicate the severity of the offense, and the sentence. Some of the objections are just for the record, and will have no bearing on sentencing, but will determine whether the report is amended by addition, change, or omission.
The judge rejects all the objections which do not affect sentencing, stating that they “reflect in large part the defendant’s view of the facts, but the statements are adequate without changing the pre-sentencing report.”
Bryan then goes on to deny requests by the defense to reject certain conditions which the prosecution presented that would enhance the sentence: firearms being used in connection with another felony offense (which the defense felt was unclear); the fact that the intended victims as government employees; and the use of body armor in the commission of the offense.
Cox is looking down quietly, peering up now and again to scans the room.
The final objection by the defense was regarding obstruction of justice, which was primarily based on Cox’s testimony during the trial, and false or contradictory statements he made during his testimony.
Peter Camiel stands to speak. “You had to deal with the same objection in Coleman Barney’s sentencing, and decided not to apply it. It has come up in other cases, and I’ve seen judges struggle with this. Mr. Cox’s testimony was contradictory to other testimony. Some things the government said were perjurious. Just because the jury comes back with a charge, doesn’t mean there was willful perjury. In terms of mental health issues, it’s difficult to say he was willfully perjuring himself, or obstructing. The way he perceived the world, and understood what was going on around him, was to a large degree dictated by mental health issues. It not only has to be willful but material to the charge. “
Federal prosecutor Steve Skrocki felt differently. “You watched Mr. Cox testify in front of the jury for close to 2 days. In our estimation, the degree of perjury was stunning. None of that information in [the report] rises to the level of claiming his testimony was somehow not perjurious.”
He went on to list a string of instances in which Cox’s testimony had been false in the eyes of the prosecution, and ultimately, the jury – including a statement that he didn’t want silencers, or hand grenades, that DVDs showing how to convert weapons to fully automatic had been left in his home by someone else, how he’d gotten wrong advice from ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms), and that he didn’t know he had to register silencers.
The judge thought a moment, and concluded, “Applying this guideline to a defendant’s testimony is, in my view, a very slippery slope for a couple reasons. It’s a conflict between freedom of speech, and the obligation to tell the truth. Defendants have the right to tell their stories as they see their stories, but they don’t have a right to lie. The other reason is when obstruction is based on perjury, it puts the court in a position of making a finding based on evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, which is another crime – perjury. I have some doubts in my mind as to the willfulness of Mr. Cox’s untruths. We know he told many, consistently, from the beginning of this investigation, through the beginning of this trial. I think doubts need to be resolved in favor of the defendant. I would simply not apply that obstruction enhancement count.”
The defense also raised the issue of the leadership role Cox played, and argued that he ought to get only a level 2 enhancement and not 4 as was in the guidelines.
“He saw himself as a leader,” Camiel said, “but I don’t know how many he actually led.” Despite Cox’s bravado, and a speech he gave at a militia conference in Montana in which he claimed to have 3,500 armed men under his leadership, the ragtag band of “militia” members never seemed to amount to more than half a dozen at most, and the judge agreed to the reduced enhancement.
Finally, based on the number of guns, the destructive device, weapons used in commission of a felony, role in the offense, use of body armor, intended federal victims, one prior domestic violence offense, and the fact that these crimes were committed while he was on probation put the final offense number at 45.
Having crunched the numbers, and haggled with the attorneys, the judge turned to sentencing. Steve Skrocki for the prosecution was the first to speak to the court.
“Mr. Cox has filed a memorandum to request to speak in open court. As you know, you have an amalgamation of things to consider. Most important is the safety of the community, the background of Mr. Cox, and the very real threat he posed to citizens of the community.
“We get a report, but we don’t know whether this [psychologist], listened to trial testimony, or the facts of the case. Our position is the report is not worth very much. It may provide information on background, but in terms of sentencing it can’t be relied on.
“ It is claiming paranoid schizophrenia, paranoid personality disorder, and delusional personality disorder.”
This is the first time anything regarding Cox’s mental health has come to light. Skrocki talks about Cox’s denial of responsibility for his actions, and his track record of blaming others for everything. He goes on to blast the findings.
“The report has the audacity to say he’s not intelligent, not a leader, not capable of doing the things he’s done. It’s frankly audacious. This person is intelligent. The one who wants to ‘leave the state’ and blame everyone else is not someone you should be lenient with…”
Cox had been led to believe by an FBI informant working the case that there existed a truck driver who would smuggle him over the border and out of Alaska. A sting operation in which Cox, and co-defendant Coleman Barney thought they were purchasing live grenades and unregistered pistols and silencers, ended up in their arrest before Cox’s planned departure.
“It’s like Whack-a-mole. Every time an issue comes up, he’s got to have a way to whack it down. There are a lot of kernels of evidence that he did mean to do this, and he was a leader, and he was leading people down the road.”
Throughout the trial, the use of an undercover informant had rankled the defense. JR Olson, whom defendant Lonnie Vernon had just called “a $300,000 whore drug-dealing piece of shit” for his role as a paid informant enlisted by the FBI to avoid charges against him, was mentioned as a scapegoat by Skrocki.
“Before he met JR Olson for sure – he built a silencer, had the sten gun, talked to [militia member Michael] Anderson about killing people who were family friends of his before he ever met JR Olson…”
Invoking other government witnesses, he continued the blame list.
“He’s blaming the government, [undercover FBI informant] Bill Fulton, [gun dealer] Aaron Bennett, JR Olson. The excuses he’s giving you in the report, do you ever hear him say … ‘I’m leaving the state, I’m worried about Fulton, I’m worried about Bennett I’m worried about these guys coming to kill me.’ There’s none of that.”
He also noted that when Cox said he wanted to leave the state, he then said that he wanted to come back and “wage guerilla warfare.”
“He’s a master manipulator you’ve got here, that will change his argument to fit any circumstance. The jury’s conviction washes all that away. They sat 12 feet away, and disregarded the excuses. Many just came up now in this report. We’re asking you for a long sentence. For some, it may be shocking and disturbing. But we made this recommendation with a lot of deliberation. Mr. Cox used the façade of the militia to threaten judges, to threaten law enforcement, [State Trooper and family friend] Mr. Wall, for example, was visited at his home, and that crosses the line, and while he was wearing body armor. He talked about ‘war against state judges.’ It’s about him using the façade and fear and terror of not knowing what or who might be sitting behind him in his militia to carry out on his threat.
“Mr. Olson was in there almost every day. None of the things you hear are the basis for a sentence of 10 years or 20 years. We submit it’s a fallacy. We’re not asking for life, but a long sentence… Mr. Cox is predisposed to have grenades and silencers. He sent Lonnie Vernon and JR Olson down to go to a militia convention to obtain hand grenades. What did he say? ‘I know how to make them.’ …He didn’t get this info from anyone but himself – the DVDs, his own computer searches.
“What’s he looking for on YouTube? Ammonium nitrate bomb and fuse! There is no sent entrapment here. This was not him being led by the nose by the government.”
He talked about the audio from FBI surveillance tapes in which Coleman Barney and Schaeffer Cox commiserate that it takes longer to die if you’re shot by a .22 caliber gun, and that you’ve got to “get in close.”
“These are not the recordings of a man who says, ‘I really want to get my family out of Alaska. This is someone who wants to take a human life. The bravado with which he talks about taking human life is chilling. When he talks about other people he doesn’t even know – a clerk in a courthouse in Fairbanks needs to die and ‘dangle like a wind chime of liberty?’ It’s dangerous, and it makes him a dangerous man.”
Skrocki wrapped up noting that Cox had made speeches about confronting the government with a gun, and with violence, and not the ballot box. The prosecution urged a sentence of 35 years in prison.
Judge Bryan begins by thanking Peter Camiel for what had to be an unbelievable amount of catch up work as Cox’s new attorney. “Obviously you have done an enormous amount of work, raised issues appropriately, and done good solid legal work. The court appreciates it.”
Camiel stood on the podium.
“Steve Skrocki can be very persuasive, and he describes Cox as a master manipulator, and you should put him away for 35 years because he is a danger. There is more about him, and what he was going through, than what was shown in trial. It’s not an excuse, but it is a fact. When I came into this case, I did not have the benefit of sitting through the trial. But, I met with him every week over the last six months. As I first started meeting with him, I thought he’s a young guy, only 28. By his early 20s he was married, starting a family, had a home, was starting a business. He was never in trouble as juvenile or teenager – no criminal history. And I’m confronted with this young man convicted of serious charges. How did he get from there to where he is right now? And as I listened to him talk, read speeches, listened to recordings – something’s not right. There’s a disconnect. He’s not seeing how he comes across to others. So I asked for an evaluation by an expert.”
At this moment I was struck by a sense of shock. After all we know, after the clear paranoid delusions he talked of in the trial, the “disconnect” Camiel talked about, the unbelievable paranoia that you don’t have to be a psychologist to see – Schaeffer Cox had never undergone a psychological evaluation. I was stunned, and a bit horrified. It’s not an excuse, but it sure is a reason. And if I’d been his attorney, that would have happened right out of the chute.
“We provided her with a good deal of material. She lists some in her report. I wanted to make sure she got government’s opening and closing statements, the whole presentencing report that listed in detail – all he was convicted of doing, and all it shows at trial, letters, news articles, etc. She got a good dose of the kinds of things he was saying, and did. She was well aware of what he was accused of. She didn’t meet with him just once. She also gave him the standard MMPI, which is scored by computer, and she came out with the report and diagnosis, including meetings, and observations
“Mr. Cox has, for some time, been suffering from some serious mental illnesses to include paranoid schizophrenia, paranoid personality disorder, and delusional personality disorder.”
“She issued opinions about that. I can appreciate that the government didn’t get this report until late, but it took a while to get it done. It probably would have benefitted as well. It would have been helpful. But Your Honor does.
“Mr. Cox was reluctant to participate at first, but he did participate. When we got results, he was reluctant to accept the diagnosis at first, but he talked to his wife and parents, and other family members. They began to say, ‘It explains a lot of what was going on, and we wish we had known sooner so we could intervene and help.’
“He said terrible things. He was going down a dangerous path, no dispute. He was certainly susceptible to being fed, and having this fueled by other events going on around him. It’s not an excuse for behavior, but there were things going on that enhanced his already paranoid view of the world. You had the child protective services attempt to interview his son – because of paranoia, it got blown out of proportion to such a degree. He and his wife and son were seeking asylum and protection at Ft. Wainwright. He’s got in his mind that there’s a team of federal assassins out to kill him and his family. How can you look back and say, “This is just an angry guy, with anti-government sentiment.” This was a paranoia taking over his life. By March 10 [his day of arrest], he’s abandoned his home and friends, and is making plans to leave Alaska. What was pending was a misdemeanor firearms charge. There was no rational reason for doing what he was doing. He was being controlled by this paranoia.
“His wife didn’t know what to do. She sees him obsessed with this. And his parents. A lot of people wrote it off to youthful arrogance, or enthusiasm about his views. It was much more than that. This is something that can be dealt with. We know what to do. Counseling and medication is something he would be amenable to.
“Where he was by 3/10/11, the day he was arrested. I think it’s indisputable in terms of what was going on that he was trying to leave. He’d be trying for a while. Yes, he got involved with silencers, and grenades. Won’t argue. They were made available… But what if he had left, what if instead of trying to put grenades and silencers in his hands, we let him leave. It’s clear he was trying to leave. There’s such a stark distinction between what was going on with cox and Vernon. When Vernon was arrested, it was the same ruse with grenades and silencers, maps and routes, but he had already written out these suicide notes. The government interrupted Vernon’s plans to commit this horrible act. What was interrupted with Mr. Cox was his plan to leave the state. Whether he would have had the will or intent to carry out what he was talking about is speculation. He’d had a long time to do it. He talked in ways that are chilling, but he never harmed anyone. For all these weapons he collected or put together, he didn’t point a gun at anyone, and it isn’t clear, even with paranoia, that’s the direction he would be going.
“Yes, Mr. Cox said things that might have incited others, there’s no denying that, but by march 10 he had very little influence over anybody. Coleman Barney, yes, Lonnie Vernon had own demons, and was going his own direction. Mr. Anderson had seen how paranoid he’d become, and others distanced themselves as well. I’m not sure that had the government not provided him with the silencer and fake grenades, he would have been able to get them. When he said he had 3500 in the militia, it was pure fantasy. He didn’t have it, or have the ability to acquire it.
Mr. Cox completely lacked ability to see how others saw him, and how his words sounded to other people. I’m not sure he appreciated at all how threatening he sounded. I don’t think he understood when he was approaching someone in a particular way that they felt threatened by his words and his conduct. It’s going to take some time to deal with that.
“The sentence should be sufficient, but not more than necessary, while appreciating the seriousness of the offense. I’d never argue these are not serious. How much time is necessary to remove him from society, get him the help he needs, and get him out on supervision? He has a strong support system of family and friends who now appreciate what was going on. There are people out there who will help him to stay on the right path because they understand now what was going on with him over the last several years. “
The gravity of the situation hits on both sides. We have a man who led a good and decent life, until stricken by mental illness in his early 20s, when schizophrenia hits. He is paranoid. He has access to weapons. Nobody around him knows what is happening to him, nor does he. But he is undoubtedly a threat to the community. He is responsible for terrorizing innocent people, but it’s possible he didn’t even fully realize that. And his actions, framed in his own mind to make him a patriot and a hero, will ultimately bring about that which he fears most. He believes the government was out to get him and he’d lose his family, and the belief made it so. Self-fulfilling paranoia.
This is not the first time recently, we’ve been faced with the horrible combination of mental illness and firearms. It makes today shocking, scary, and sad.
Finally, it is Cox’s turn to speak. He asked if he should stand or sit. The judge said he could sit. He looked like a kid asking the teacher a question. He began speaking softly and deliberately, but didn’t get half way through the first sentence without choking up. His words came out in a flow, with hardly a pause, like a river. Almost like one long sentence, as though the entire sum of the words was one whole entity.
“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. And this is devastating to my life, and she’s (his wife?) in a position of pain and uncertainty, and I know that that is my fault. And my children who I love with all my heart, they lost their family as a result of this, and the thing that they need the most is their parents and their home there for them while they’re growing up. And that was the most important thing in the world to me, and I was so scared that something would jeopardize that, that I would up running into the very thing I was running away from. I hurt my family first and foremost, and I put a lot of people in fear by the things that I said, and some of the crazy stuff that was coming out of my mouth, and I see that, and I sounded horrible. I couldn’t have sounded any worse if I tried, and the more scared I got, the crazier things I started saying. And I wasn’t thinking, I was panicking, and I lost all of my composure, and created a horrible mess.”
He paused to wipe his eyes and blow his nose.
“You know, if I was the FBI, I would investigate me too. I don’t blame them for that. I don’t’ blame anybody but myself for starting this.”
“But for all the crazy things I said, at the end of the day, I knew what I needed to take care of myself, and that was to remove myself from the situation and aggravating circumstances, and that’s what I was trying to do. I was obsessed with that. Mr. Skrocki pointed out that I’d talked to Steve Cooper, and I talked to other people, and he was right. And he saw there was something wrong, and I was terrified and living in a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from… and it still is. It’s gotten even more now… sitting here, waiting to get sentenced is even worse. But I felt it, and they saw it, and they didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t know what it was, but it was there. But one thing that I really, really want you to know is that I had no intention of hurting anybody. I had no desire to hurt anybody. I don’t think I could have hurt anybody. I didn’t have anger that would drive me to lash out, I had fear that drove me to run away. And I know I said a lot of scary intimidating things, and when I listen to those now, I realize how serious some of the stuff I said was. But that was emotional, fear-driven bluff. And I’ve never been in a fight in my life. I’ve gone 2 years in jail without getting into a fight, and that’s unusual. I’ll bluff and run.
“By March 10th, all I wanted was to leave, walk away from the situation, get away from the danger and the agitating factors and regain composure. I knew I lost all composure and was doing extreme things to try to get away. I am not a danger to anybody. And I want to apologize to the people I scared. I don’t know if it’s appropriate, but some of them are here… [Trooper] Ron [Wall], I’m really sorry about what I put you through. I don’t know you as well as I know your boys, but I love them, and I hope we can get this straightened out . Trina and Mark, I know I made you scared too and, I don’t want to keep going on about this, but I never said anything about hurting you, or doing anything bad to you. I love you and I love… Trina when you came and testified, and cried, I felt so bad, and I don’t want to do anything to make you scared. And Mark, I just got freaked out and I was running and my mouth. Please just trust me. You know me, and you know better. I would have prevented this if I’d had the wherewithal.
“And that brings me to my children. I have a 2-year old and a 4-year old, and my little girl was born just a couple days before Marti and I decided to move to a different country, and… My little boy is my best friend in the world, and I’ve had some really good friends who have lost children, and I will never ever understand the pain a parent goes through when that happens, but I know that it’s got to be really devastating for my children to be losing their parents and their home. There’s nothing more that I want than to be there for them during their young formative years. There’s nothing I can think of that’s worse to lose in this life than that, and I feel like I’ve lost it no matter how this goes. I would just ask you to have mercy on me, and my family, and sentence me in a way that allows me to be there for my children while they are still children. I read [the psychiatrist’s] report, and like I told Peter, I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to talk to her, I dismissed that, I was skeptical, and then I didn’t want to accept results of what her diagnosis was. But after thinking about it, and after talking to family, mother, father, wife, and some people who know me real well, and who I know love me and care about me… and they’re saying, “Yeah, we see that and it makes sense, and you need to accept that and it makes sense of things that didn’t make sense before. I agree there’s something there and I want to listen to the people who love me. And I will do whatever I need to do to get better because life has been a horrifying nightmare for the last few years. And that’s all I have to say. But I know I put myself here and I still am saying I didn’t have any intention or plans to kill anyone or hurt anyone in any way but I coul have prevented this whole thing from happening and I didn’t. That’s my fault.”
When he had finished, it became evident how still the courtroom had been. The silence fell fast, but was broken in a few seconds by Judge Bryan.
“I need 15 minutes,” he said brusquely, and left as the courtroom stood again to the clanging of chair seats flipping up.
15 minutes passed slowly, as everyone sat absorbing all that had just been said, and wondering what was to come. Judge Bryan finally came back and we rose and sat again.
“The first thing are the guidelines.”
We were back to business.
“Under the guidelines that were mandatory up until the last couple years, if they were still mandatory Mr. Cox would be getting life in prison without question, and I would not have the legal discretion to do anything other than that.
“It’s interesting that the probation officer, the government, and of course, the defense, have all recommended a sentence below the guidelines. The sentencing guidelines have fallen into some disrepute, but they must be considered in sentencing.
“It’s important to understand this. This is not a case about free speech, or the government trying to shut somebody up. It’s a criminal case about criminal acts.”
It started with speechmaking, and in part the speech in Montana included in it confession to crimes, and possession of mines and bombs and machine guns. It’s not surprising it got the government’s attention. Mr. Cox started the investigation not because of the nature of his political philosophy, but of the nature of criminal acts. We prize free speech in this country and that’s simply not what this is about. We welcome those who have differing opinions.”
He then hit on a point that made me sink in my seat a little.
“I keep reading in the paper about this militia, but it never amounted to a militia. There was no militia. There was a group of guys who wanted to form a militia but never did. This group was never trained for military service, it never actually formed and was not a true militia.”
I’m as guilty as anyone is, but I’m not sure what else to call it now that the “militia trial” name has stuck as an identifier. So, Judge Bryan, if you’re listening, “it’s not an excuse, but it’s a reason.”
“I want to address the psychological study, and a little bit about Mr. Cox’s mental status. At the end of the trial I made some notes about Mr. Cox, after hearing all the evidence and his testimony. And I wrote down some words that are psychological in nature, but I’m not qualified to make a diagnosis, but these are what I observed about Mr. Cox.”
He read from his notes. “’Paranoia, grandiosity, narcissism egocentricity, pathological lying.’ Pathological lying, as Mr. Cox has suggested, is lying as a result of a disease rather than as a result of an intent to lie. I believe Mr. Cox lies without knowing that he’s lying.”
“The events of the trial led me to the conclusion that while Mr. Cox is reasonably or very intelligent, he is naïve, he lacks wisdom, he lacks understanding , he was raised in an ‘insular environment,’ and I think part of the problem that led him into this is a failure to understand other people, the institutions of government, and the ability to understand himself. We’ve heard about this diagnosis, assuming that it’s correct, it may supply some reasons for what Mr. Cox did, but it did not provide excuses. There’s no showing he should be found not guilty by reason of insanity, or anything of the like. But it’s part of him to some extent, that he has to live with, and it may provide a reason for what he did, but it’s not an excuse. He has never been so ill that he’s not had followers and been able to convince people to follow him.
“On the letters – I’ve read every one and there is a theme that goes through them. The first theme is that he is a good man, before this came up, a good family man, good worker, nice person, good neighbor in all ways. I think that is basically true, although he may have made mistakes, before this came up he was a good man with a bright future.
“The second theme, particularly from members of the church his father is the pastor of, is that his family needs him, and one of the sad things about sentencing is that there are victims of crimes far beyond the specific victims and people we think of as victims. Criminals are victims of their own crimes, and their families are… how does that play into sentencing? I can tell you what the guideline says about family… Family ties and responsibilities are not ordinarily relevant… One cannot help but have a great deal of sympathy for Mrs. Cox and her children, but the fix she finds herself in is exactly what happens when the breadwinner of a house commits crimes.
“The third theme is that he didn’t do it, and he isn’t guilty. In letter after letter that idea was expressed. Well, you know folks, he did do it. He did commit these crimes. The jury decided that. Some will never accept it, but the law is the law. They came to court and sat, for day after day. They made the decision, and he is guilty as charged. I would also say that some say the government maliciously made up this whole thing – those letters are based in large part on information that came from Mr. Cox. He said in a letter he wrote, that is in wide circulation now, written on August 4th of this year, he was still saying the government manufactured a case against me and told lies.”
“I don’t blame people for believing that Mr. Cox wasn’t guilty, or that there was another reason for his conviction. But what led to that was from Mr. Cox, and Mr. Cox is not a reliable person when it comes to telling the truth about these events, or just about anything else.”
“This idea that the government made this all up was that the government somehow entrapped Mr. Cox. Entrapment in the law is a particular thing, and there was no showing of any entrapment in this case. Certainly, Mr. Olson provided the opportunity for Mr. Cox to commit the crimes, they did not entrap him into committing the crime. And there is no sentencing entrapment – where the government simply piles it on to get a higher sentence. When there is a claim that the government has overreached, the court watches closely to see if there is some indication of overreaching or unfair prosecution. We’re actually here to stand between the government and the defendant. I saw no indication of overreaching of the government. They operated entirely within the proper and ethical expectations of the public.
“We see rather typically that government tends to make things sound worse than they are, and overstate – and the defense seems to understate, and make it sound not so bad. What the court has to do is look at the offenses of conviction and go from that, rather than the proper rhetoric of counsel. I don’t suggest either were inappropriate.”
The main charges against Cox were conspiring to murder officers of the United States in which there must be an agreement between 2 or more people to commit the murders, and soliciting others to engage in the murder of an officer of the United States. Bryan indicated that there was ample evidence to support that conclusion. “You can’t make it worse, or not so bad, by argument,” he observed.
Bryan states that Cox should be treated as a first offender, and the court should acknowledge that before the events in question, he was a good citizen, although the seriousness of the crimes called for a long sentence.
The sentence must be an adequate deterrence, he said, and should also protect the public from further crimes.
“We know from the convictions that he was a danger to the public in the past. We also know despite his statements, we can have no confidence that he would not be a danger in the future. It’s obviously difficult to anticipate, but Mr. Cox’s personality, and mental status indicates to me that the public needs to be protected from him.
“If we are to believe the results, Mr. Cox needs continuing long-term medical care, and I’m not convinced he’d get that outside a condition of incarceration.
“The court must also consider guidelines which suggest a longer sentence than I’m prepared to give him. In this situation – the sentence given to Mr. Vernon yesterday -it seems to me very similar to what Mr. Cox should receive. Mr. Vernon was a different problem, presented different issues, and was perhaps much closer to carrying out the murder of a public official. But, he was also a follower of Mr. Cox, and I can’t help but wonder how much Mr. Cox’s influence over Mr. Vernon may have lent some impetus to Mr. Vernon’s desire to kill a federal judge.
“All things being considered, and the issues I’ve discussed indicate 310 months (25 years, 10 months) in custody, total. That’s a long time, same as Mr. Vernon, but we have the most serious offenses here, and it is very substantially below the guideline range.”
Sentencing on all the charges is to be served concurrently, with five years supervised release, and no fine.
After the counts were enumerated, terms of release discussed, and Cox’s right to appeal, the judge asked if he understood it all.
“Yes, Your Honor.”
And with that he was out the back door, and spectators filed out into the lobby. Marti Cox wiped tears away. Reporters buzzed about trying to get comments from family, friends, attorneys, and others. Steve Skrocki was being interviewed by the entrance, fielding questions.
He said he doesn’t normally speak so much before sentencing, but felt it was important to do so in this case. The prosecution did not seek life in prison, the maximum sentence, because no one was killed, he explained. He expects that Cox will appeal, and called his teary-eyed testimony on the stand “convenient emotional responses.”
When asked if Schaeffer Cox still had followers, the answer was quick and matter-of-fact: Yes.
“Are there any ongoing investigations?” asked one veteran journalist.
Skrocki smiled, and looked at him sideways. “Now, you know better than to ask me that.”