Fairbanks militiaman Francis Shaeffer Cox is facing a 310 months in prison. Federal judge Robert Bryan handed down the sentence – close to 26 years – U.S. District Court in Anchorage at noon Tuesday, despite pleas of leniency from both Cox and his attorney, Peter Camiel. Federal prosecutors had asked the court for a 35-year sentence for Cox. Prosecutor Stephen Skrocki called Cox a “master manipulator,” and a danger to the community. Skrocki painted a grim picture of the defendant as a man using the facade of a militia to collect grenades and other weapons while compiling a hit list that included judges, federal employees, and even former friends.
“We agree with the courts sentencing recommendation of 25 years,” Skrocki said. “It’s a very significant sentence, so we are comfortable with his decision.”
Cox’s attorney, Camiel, would not comment after leaving the court, other than to say that it is likely Cox will appeal the sentence.
Judge Bryan handed down the sentence after two and a half hours of court proceedings that included a review of objections filed by Camiel regarding a both a pre-sentencing report and the sentencing guidelines. Camiel argued against increasing a sentence because of the government employee status of some of Cox’s intended victims. He had also objected to sentencing guidelines regarding the defendant’s use of body armor while committing criminal offenses. Camiel also pleaded with the court to consider a post trial psychological evaluation of his client, who, he claimed, is a paranoid schizophrenic. “He was controlled by paranoia,” Camiel said. But Skrocki said the court did not take “a lot of stock in the report’s value.”
“In our arguments to the court, we pretty much asked the judge to make his own observations about what he saw with respect to Mr. Cox’s conduct, and I think he did that in sentencing that he was able to see the things that he did on the stand compared to what he did on the tape and during the investigation,” Skrocki said. “A lot of things were sort of convenient in terms of his emotional responses, things like that, so I think the court saw that as well.”
Cox, for his part, told the court, “I put myself here.” While he had sat through the proceedings with a stony face, he broke down toward the end, reaching for Kleenex to wipe his eyes as he apologized to his wife, his family and former friends, some of whom had testified against him at trial.
Cox claimed he was driven by fear and paranoia, yet had no actual intention of killing anyone.
“I was trying to wake up from a nightmare I couldn’t get away from,” he said. “And it’s getting worse, sitting here waiting to get sentenced. It’s scary.”
Cox was convicted last summer on nine counts, including conspiracy to murder federal officials and weapons charges. Tuesday, Judge Bryan said he agreed in part with the psychological report, although the report supplies reasons for Cox’s actions, but does not excuse them. Bryan told the court that Cox is a danger to the public, yet his conviction is a first offense, so he should be treated as a first offender. Skrocki said it is difficult to predict what could happen if Cox appeals the sentence
“I’m sure he will appeal everything from the pre-trial decisions on what evidence can be admitted in court. He’ll appeal certainly the sentence. He can appeal things that happen during the trial. So it all depends on the nature and the extent of the appeal and what the court does with it. Sometimes they can send it back down to analyze an issue with sentencing or with trial evidence, sometimes it might find that maybe an error was made but it had no impact on the trial. So there’s a lot of different ways it could happen or not, and we just can’t predict that at this point,” Skrocki said.
Another former Alaska Peacekeepers Militia member, Lonnie Vernon, received nearly 26 years in prison when he was sentenced Monday.
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