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Alaska couple sentenced to prison for plot to kill judge, others

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - A Fairbanks-area man convicted of plotting to kill federal judges and other government officials was sentenced on Monday to nearly 26 years in prison, while his wife was sentenced to 12 years for her part in the conspiracy.

Lonnie Vernon, 57, a member of an anti-government group called the Alaska Peacekeepers Militia, was convicted last summer of conspiring to murder federal and state law-enforcement agents, judges and other officials and of amassing an arsenal of illegal weapons to carry out those plans.

In a separate case, Vernon and his wife, Karen, pleaded guilty to plotting to kill U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline, members of Beistline's family - including young grandchildren - and other government employees in retaliation for the judge's rulings on the couple's income tax case.

When the two were arrested in March of 2011, they had weapons and a Fairbanks map with homes of Beistline's family marked and routes to those homes highlighted.

Lonnie Vernon, a member of a "sovereign citizens" movement that considers individuals to be separate nations, spoke out angrily at the hearing, where he received combined sentences in both cases against him.

In sometimes profanity-laced comments, he railed against the prosecutors, the agents who investigated him and even his own public defenders, and he said he did not recognize the judge's authority over him.

Attorney M.J. Haden, who represented him, said the defense was disappointed at the sentence. She said she was not sure if Vernon's courtroom outbursts had affected the outcome.

"I can say it probably didn't help," she said.

Karen Vernon, in contrast, was tearful and apologetic at her afternoon sentencing hearing and said she never meant to hurt anyone. "I also apologize to my family and friends for the shame and embarrassment that this has caused," she said.

U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan, who imposed the sentences, said the Vernons' crimes had been grave.

"This was a most serious offense. It was a conspiracy, I'm afraid, that was well on its way to possible conclusion, with horrible results," Bryan said.

Also convicted at last summer's trial were two of Vernon's co-defendants.

The militia's 28-year-old leader, Schaeffer Cox, was convicted of conspiracy to murder, solicitation to commit murder and various weapons charges. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Tuesday; prosecutors are seeking a 35-year prison term.

Militia member Coleman Barney was convicted at trial of weapons charges, but jurors deadlocked on a murder-conspiracy charge. He was sentenced in September to five years in prison, and prosecutors have dropped the murder-conspiracy charge against him.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Eric Walsh)

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