State is Forced to Dismiss State Conspiracy Charges Against Francis Cox, Coleman Barney, Lonnie Vernon, Karen Vernon, and Michael Anderson; Federal Charges Remain.
October 28, 2011
Juneau, Alaska – The State is dismissing conspiracy charges against Francis Schaeffer Cox, Coleman Barney, Lonnie Vernon, Karen Vernon, and Michael Anderson. Similar charges remain in federal court against all the defendants except Michael Anderson.
"The federal defendants will continue to remain in custody," said Assistant Attorney General Dwayne McConnell, the attorney supervising the team of state prosecutors assigned to the cases. "The State's case is dismissed because of the suppression of the evidence in state court."
The defendants are members of the Fairbanks-based Alaska Peace Makers Militia.
David C. Stewart, a retired Alaska Court of Appeals judge and assigned trial judge on the state case, suppressed all electronic recordings made during the course of the conspiracy. Judge Stewart based his decision on an Alaska Supreme Court case, State v. Glass, which requires state law enforcement officers to obtain a search warrant before recording or videotaping conversations of people and agents working undercover for the State. According to Judge Stewart's October 17, 2011 suppression order, the Alaska Supreme Court has held that a search warrant is required, because the Alaska Constitution grants a greater right of privacy than the U.S. Constitution.
The case began as a federal investigation, and state and local law enforcement were asked for assistance well after the investigation was underway. Under federal law, the government, when electronically recording an individual, is not required to obtain a search warrant to record conversations. Judge Stewart's order will have no effect in federal court. With the suppression of the recordings, the state prosecution of these individuals is no longer possible.
The trials in federal court are set for February and March of 2012. The state investigators involved in these federal charges will continue to assist the federal government as needed in their prosecution.
"Local law enforcement did an outstanding job in a complicated federal, state, and local investigation," said Fairbanks District Attorney Mike Gray. "The distinction between which investigative techniques are permissible and which are not is a confusing and unsettled area of Alaska law when there is a joint federal and state investigation." The State does not get to appeal rulings of this nature. Prosecutors considered a petition for review, a process rarely allowed by the Alaska Court of Appeals. Given the unsettled law in the area of joint investigations, there was little likelihood of such a petition being granted.
For further information contact Assistant Attorney General Dwayne McConnell at (907) 465-3428.
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