Jury for the Ed and Elaine Browns’ trial to be selected . They face 11 felonies from their standoff . If found guilty, they face virtual life sentences for their crimes

By Margot Sanger-Katz
Monitor staff

 

For nearly nine months, Ed and Elaine Brown holed up in their fortified concrete Plainfield home, surrounded by supporters and supplies, and railed against the federal government.

They threatened law enforcement officials and accumulated weapons and bombs. They spoke frequently with news reporters and nearly daily on a radio show about an apocalyptic confrontation and possible revenge killings.

But the Browns were arrested bloodlessly by an undercover team of U.S. marshals who won their trust and brought them pizza.

Today, jury selection begins in a trial for 11 felonies the Browns are accused of committing during their standoff. If found guilty, they face virtual life sentences for their crimes.

The couple are accused of conspiring to impede federal officials, obstructing justice, failing to appear in court, and illegally possessing firearms and bombs. They have already been found guilty of a series of tax related crimes and are serving 63-month prison sentences.

The Browns were longtime anti-government activists and ran the New Hamsphire Defense Militia in the 1990s. Ed Brown, who became a prominent spokesman for the militia movement after the 1996 Oklahoma City bombing, later founded another political organization, the UnAmerican Activities Investigations Committee, and became the national leader of Constitution Rangers of the Continental Congress of 1777, an antigovernment group with chapters throughout the country.

The couple clashed with the law when they decided to test their long-held view that no law requires them to pay federal income taxes. When they were charged with tax evasion in 2006, they had already begun extensive renovations on their hilltop home, fortified with 8-inch-thick concrete walls, an underground bunker and a four-story watchtower.

At trial, the Browns represented themselves, contending that government officials had conspired to conceal the truth about income tax law. When they decided the case was unlikely to go their way, they fled to their home, and Ed Brown began sending e-mails to supporters and right-wing radio hosts, asking them to join him and warning them that his situation might turn into “another Waco.”

Elaine Brown ultimately returned to court and put on an unsuccessful defense; the couple were convicted of all charges. She joined her husband in Plainfield several weeks later after being freed on bail.

Both Browns promised violence if law enforcement agents tried to arrest them, and they made additional threats against the judge and prosecutor involved in their tax case.

“We don’t know how this will end. But there are only two ways we are coming out of here. Either as a free man and as a free woman or in body bags,” Elaine Brown said in a March 2007 radio broadcast. “That has not changed, and that’s the stand that everyone must take. Because if we come out in body bags, there’s going to be a few more, too.”

Their statements attracted broad publicity and supporters, who brought food, tactical supplies, communications devices and weapons to the Browns. The supporters comprised a motley crew of militiamen, anti-war demonstrators, anarchists and members of New Hampshire’s Free State Project, all attracted to the couple’s public attention and their willingness to resist the federal government.

Four of those supporters were found guilty last year of conspiring with the Browns to prevent their arrest. According to testimony at trial, investigators found the Browns’ home stuffed with bombs and guns, including 21 pipe bombs in the Browns’ bedroom closet, gunpowder grenades, exploding rifle targets hung from trees around the house and .50-caliber rifles positioned near upstairs windows. A forensic expert from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives testified that she found Ed Brown’s fingerprints on several pipe bombs and gunpowder grenades.

Lawyers for both sides have been barred from making any public statements about the case.

Defense filings suggest the Browns plan to argue that they assembled this arsenal because they feared federal marshals planned to kill them. During the standoff, the Browns made frequent mention of standoffs at Ruby Ridge, in Idaho, and Waco, Texas, where confrontations between extremists and federal agents resulted in multiple deaths. Randy Weaver, a Ruby Ridge survivor, visited Plainfield in June 2007 and told news reporters, “I ain’t afraid of dying no more.” Weaver is listed as a possible witness by Ed Brown’s lawyer, Michael Iacopino.

It appears the Browns will focus on an aborted attempt to arrest the couple earlier that month. Dozens of federal and local law enforcement agents swarmed around the property in tanks, helicopters and patrol cars, and a Brown supporter who encountered a hidden team of marshals was apprehended and questioned. That supporter, who was recently sentenced to 36 years in prison for his participation in the standoff, is currently listed as a possible prosecution witness.

“Now that we knew they were intent on killing us, we began to accept the offers of munitions in various places, in order that we may be able to defend ourselves,” the Browns wrote in a recent 38-page appellate filing, titled “Saga of Edward and Elaine.” “We knew conflict was imminent.”

In one recent filing, Bjorn Lange, Elaine Brown’s lawyer, asked the court to allow her to argue that “she came to believe that she faced serious bodily injury or death from officers and agents of the government,” and her subsequent possession of firearms was “justified by a well-founded fear that the government was prepared to use excessive, unlawful force against her.”

Ed Brown’s lawyer has filed motions making similar arguments.

The Browns’ cooperation with lawyers is new. Since their arraignments in February, they have filed repeated motions with the court challenging its authority, questioning the ethics of the U.S. attorney and demanding to be freed in exchange for promised bonds allegedly worth billions of dollars. They told the judge that they did not wish to attend their trial, rejected their court-appointed attorneys and refused to accept any prosecution discovery materials. But this month, after Judge George Singal described their legal strategy as “almost a suicide pact,” they reversed course and agreed to allow Iacopino and Lange to help them.

Jury selection will involve about 230 possible jurors, nearly triple the usual number for a trial with two defendants, the court’s clerk said. The large jury pool was arranged because of the heightened publicity surrounding the case and the large number of witnesses, he said.

The trial is expected to run 10 days and will begin Tuesday with summary testimony by U.S. Marshal Stephen Monier, who oversaw the investigation, a prosecution filing says. Monier won a national award from the U.S. Department of Justice for his handling of the case.

 

http://www.concordmonitor.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090629/FRONTPAGE/906290303

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