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Convicted militia leader Schaeffer Cox fires his attorney

Jill Burke

Fairbanks militia leader Schaeffer Cox has fired his attorney. The young militia leader who made a name for himself with big talk about the violent collapse of government and the role of Godly citizens in rising up to seize the void was convicted last month of multiple felonies stemming from a weapons-and-murder conspiracy. Cox and two of his followers stood accused of seeking hand grenades and other illegal weapons and with plotting to kill state and federal employees, including members of law enforcement and judges. 

Attorney Nelson Traverso filed a motion with the court Monday asking to withdraw from the case, stating his client was extremely unhappy with the job he'd performed. No aspect of Traverso's role in Cox’s defense was up to par, according to the motion. Cox was found guilty on the most serious charge, conspiracy to commit murder, and he faces up to life in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for September. 

According to Traverso, Cox complained about how Traverso presented the case, conducted direct and cross examinations during trial, used exhibits, decided which witnesses to call and what arguments to make. In a move not usual for defendants who fail to beat the rap, Cox now claims he received "ineffective assistance of counsel" -- a legal term referring to whether Cox's constitutionally-mandated right to competent legal representation was met. The standard has two prongs: was the attorney competent, and if not, was the attorney's poor work directly responsible for the trial's outcome? 

Such claims are difficult to prove, and rarely successful.

During the verdicts, Cox reacted with disbelief as the guilty verdicts piled up. "The prosecution withheld evidence from you guys," he at one point shouted to the jury. He took his own notes throughout the trial, and could be seen whispering -- sometimes with looks of anger and dissatisfaction -- into his attorney's ear.  

Cox's main defense to the charges was to characterize himself as someone who'd been railroaded by a corrupt system, an outspoken dissenter silenced by a government willing to go to any lengths to shut him down.

Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com