According to her defense attorney, Mary Ann Morgan wasn’t on a nefarious journey fueled by loyalty to imprisoned militia leader Schaeffer Cox when she tried to cross into Canada late last month. Rather, she was merely trying to help an addled, aging friend get to Minnesota while herself making plans to relocate to Washington state to attend fashion school, her lawyer, James Hackett, said in bail document filed in federal court Tuesday.
Prosecutors are pushing for Morgan to be detained while awaiting trial on charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Morgan has an old conviction for custodial interference that under state law bars her from having a gun. She had a .32 caliber Beretta with her when she tried to cross into Canada from Alaska, which led to her arrest.
In arguing to keep Morgan locked up, prosecutors raised a myriad of troubling observations. Not only did Morgan have the prohibited gun, but she also had with her considerable research on poisonous plants, the lethal biotoxin ricin, bomb making and firearm handling. Add to that Morgan’s belief system, prosecutors asserted. Because she’s a self-proclaimed sovereign citizen who rejects government authority, they argued that Morgan would be unlikely to adhere to any release conditions the court set.
So just who is the real Mary Ann Morgan, and what was she really up to?
She is a woman of “good nature and character,” with patience and kindness, according to Hackett. For years, she has supplemented her income by working as a seamstress and offering sewing lessons. Three sewing machines were among the items she had packed into her truck for the journey south.
An avid gardener, the information on poisonous plants she had with her was, Hackett said, only to educate herself on how to avoid introducing the bad plants into her gardens. The notes on explosives weren’t for her, but were part of the assistance she gave to an elderly friend who wanted to learn how to use explosives to get rid of stumps on his property. Because this friend sometimes forgets things, Morgan wrote notes for him so the information would be available to him when he needed it. Morgan also disputes any substantial affiliation to the Alaska Peacemakers Militia, Kenai Peacemakers Militia, or the Alaska Citizens Militia. Only once did she act as a meeting secretary, Hackett said.
Morgan claims that after successfully completing probation in the custodial interference case, the state of Alaska restored her civil rights and let her know that it would be okay to possess a firearm. According to Hackett, Morgan told him she had this paperwork with her when arrested, but the government has yet to return the documents.
Hackett is asking for Morgan to be released on her own recognizance – basically being allowed to go free but promising to make her court appearances to answer to the charges. In a similar case contemporaneously filed in Alaska state court, Morgan’s bail was set at $10,000, which Hackett asked the federal judge to take note of.
A hearing on Morgan’s bail status is scheduled to take place Wednesday in Fairbanks.
Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com