|Screenshot of U.S. Marshals Service photo of defendants; click to enlarge|
Update March 29th: David Stone Sr. and Joshua Stone have now each pleaded guilty to one count of illegally possessing a machine gun. David Stone possessed a .223-calber Bushmaster rifle and Joshua Stone a .223-calber Double Star Corp. rifle. Both were able to fire on automatic — firing multiple bullets with a single trigger pull -— rather than semi-automatic —- firing one bullet per trigger pull. The maximum penalty for each is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, although the Detroit News reports that Stone Sr. faces Stone, who faces a 41-month prison term when sentenced in August 2012. The Detroit Free Press offers more details, reporting that under the terms of the plea agreements, Stone Sr. faces 33 to 48 months in prison, while Joshua Stone faces 27-33 months. Judge Victoria Roberts granted them bail pending sentencing over the objections of vindictive prosecutors.
All seven defendants were acquitted of the most serious charges: seditious conspiracy, which carried a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. This means the following five defendants are now free: David Stone Jr., 22, of Adrian; Tina Stone, 46, the wife of David Stone Sr.; Michael Meeks, 42, of Manchester; Thomas Piatek, 48, of Whiting, and Christopher Sickles, 29, of Sandusky, Ohio.
-- Read the 12-page original Hutaree indictment HERE.
-- Read the 28-page document of Judge Roberts' decision HERE.
Two other militia members faced separate justice and were not included in this trial. Joshua John Clough, formerly of Blissfield Township, pleaded guilty in December 2011 and will spend at least five years in federal prison on a charge of using a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. He had faced up to life in prison, but reached a plea deal with prosecutors. In July 2011, Judge Roberts ruled that Jacob Ward of Huron, OH was incompetent to stand trial and ordered him to undergo treatment.
Judge Roberts said federal prosecutors failed in five weeks of trial to prove that the Hutaree had a specific plan to kill a police officer and attack law enforcement personnel. She concluded that seditious conspiracy required an agreement and a plan of action, not mere advocacy or hateful speech. The judge also noted that the prosecution relied too much on inferences, and worse yet, crossed the line into pure speculation far too many times. Because prosecutors failed to prove their case on the conspiracy charges, Judge Roberts said she also was required to acquit the defendants on five other counts involving demonstration of the use of explosives and carrying and possessing a firearm in relation to a crime of violence.
It should be noted that on March 22nd, the defense had asked for a mistrial, saying the government withheld information that should have been provided under federal law. The defense believed the prosecution should have disclosed the fact that their star witness, FBI agent Stephen Haug, was the FBI handler for informant Hal Turner. Turner was a right-wing radio host and blogger who made threats against critics and public officials while on the FBI payroll. The FBI had also inserted a local informant, Dan Murray, inside the group in 2008 and paid him $31,000.
Gee whiz. When have the Feds withheld information before? Try the Ted Stevens case, the Vic Kohring case, and the Pete Kott case; convictions in all three cases were overturned because the Feds withheld information from the defense.
So why should Schaeffer Cox and his cohorts rejoice at the outcome of the Hutaree trial? It looks like Alaska Dispatch is already asking this question, as they've republished an article by the Christian Science Monitor. They agree that there are many similarities between the two cases, to include the nebulous raft of conspiracy charges and assorted weapons charges. In addition, both cases involve the use of snitches and audio tapes. But they suggest it would be premature to use the Hutaree case to foretell the fate of the federal case against Cox and his cohorts, because unlike the Hutaree, Cox is not charged specifically with an attempt to overthrow the government, and is not accused with seeking or intending to use weapons of mass destruction.
But having suffered yet another high-profile loss in the Hutaree case, will the Department of Justice still be enthused about pressing the Schaeffer Cox case? Odds are they will work on the defendants and try to persuade them to take a plead deal. They could conceivably offer to drop the conspiracy charges in exchange for a guilty plea on the weapons charges, and agree to a sentence of only time already served. Whether Cox and his cohorts would agree to such a deal is problematic; they've been standing tall for over a year now.
Meanwhile, Norm Olson of the Alaska Citizens Militia reacted favorably to the Hutaree verdict:
"I couldn't be more delighted. I've stood by the Hutaree from the beginning, just as I stand now with Schaeffer Cox. The FBI has shown the long reach of their terroristic police actions and how they can destroy people's lives with false information, manipulated and withheld evidence, and purgury on the stand. Credit must go to the Honorable Victoria A. Roberts, who has shown a true appreciation for the 1st Amendment. I can only hope that the Hutaree's aquittal will provide the needed precedent for Schaeffer's".