Alaska couple admits to planning judge’s murder
An Alaska couple has admitted to buying a gun, silencer and hand grenades, and having maps to a federal judge’s homes, in what prosecutors say was a murder plot that developed from a dispute over paying taxes.
Lonnie and Karen Vernon of Salcha appeared in U.S. District Court in Anchorage on Monday to change their pleas and admit to conspiring to murder federal officials. Under the signed plea agreements, Lonnie Vernon will spend from 21 to 27 years in prison and his wife more than 15 years.
The judge set sentencing for Nov. 14.
Lonnie Vernon, 56, was a foot soldier in a Fairbanks militia group and convicted earlier this year in a separate murder conspiracy plot in which his wife was not charged. In that trial, Alaska Militia leader Schaeffer Cox also was convicted.
In this murder conspiracy case, the Vernons have signed plea agreements admitting to intending to kill U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline and Internal Revenue Service officer Janice Stowell in 2011 in retaliation for a decision that they owed more than $165,000 in back taxes. Beistline presided over the tax case.
According to the plea agreements, the tax case began in 2008 because the couple had failed to pay taxes for several years. They were slapped with tax liens, and the government moved to sell their home, which was eventually sold.
In 2009, the couple with ties to the militia filed a counterclaim asserting that they are not citizens of the United States and therefore not obligated to pay taxes.
Beistline dismissed the lawsuit, calling the Vernons’ arguments “frivolous.” The couple lost several more legal challenges the following year.
According to Lonnie Vernon’s plea agreement, in February 2011, he traveled from Fairbanks to Anchorage with an undercover informant to buy a silencer. He told the informant, who was working undercover for the government, that he was going to kill the judge and the IRS officer, as well as the judge’s wife and children.
The following month, the couple met again with the undercover informant. This time, according to their plea agreements, they told him they wanted to buy hand grenades and offered to trade Karen Vernon’s jewelry for some. Lonnie Vernon also said he intended to kill Beistline’s daughter and her children, as well as all the Beistlines, and sought the informant’s help.
The plea agreement says the Vernons showed the informant a map with addresses and highlighted routes to the judges’ residences.
It says the couple purchased a pistol with silencer and two hand grenades, not knowing they were inert and provided by the FBI. Karen Vernon put the hand grenades in her purse, the plea agreement says.
The couple also had body armor, two assault rifles, more handguns and several rounds of ammunition at the time, the plea agreement says.
The couple also left a defiant letter to friends and family in case they died.
The letter says, “We will not FREELY GIVE our home, land and personal property to this tyrant, nor will we die cowards, licking their jack-boots. We did not go down without resistance and standing for our rights, the lead deficiency of those who came to take ours from us, was corrected as best we could.”