The defense wrapped up its closing arguments Wednesday in the federal trial of three Fairbanks militiamen accused of plotting to murder judges and other federal officials.
The prosecution will get 45 minutes of rebuttal time Thursday, before the government's case against Alaska Peacemakers Militia leader Schaeffer Cox, Coleman Barney and Lonnie Vernon goes to the jury.
Cox, Barney and Vernon stand accused not only of plotting to kill federal officials, but of stockpiling arms -- including hand grenades, a machine gun, unregistered silencers, and even a launcher capable of firing anti-personnel shells.
Defense attorneys argue that many of the weapons, including the hand grenades, were not functional and therefore were not dangerous. They also said that their clients were entrapped by an FBI informant into making arms purchases.
In his summation, attorney Tim Dooley, who's defending Coleman Barney, quoted Thomas Jefferson.
Dooley reminded jurors that Jefferson famously once said, "The tree of liberty must be watered from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants," in an effort to dramatize the fact that the First Amendment often protects speech which advocates the violent overthrow of the U.S. government.
It is only when such speech comes dangerously close to actually inciting violence that it becomes illegal.
That's what defense attorneys argued on behalf of their defendants during closing arguments, characterizing Cox, Barney and Vernon as tough talkers who had the outlook of so-called survivalists -- people who prepare for a day when the government is overthrown, and law and order breaks down.
Talking about what you would do under such circumstances is protected speech and isn't illegal, Dooley argued.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Skrocki, however, says the defendants' weapons cache was accumulated as part of their alleged plot against federal officials. That is not a theoretical exercise of free speech, says Skrocki, it's conspiracy to commit murder.
Because the defendants face some 16 felony counts it could take District Court Judge Robert Ryan some time to issue instructions to the jury, but deliberations could begin as early as Thursday evening.
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