Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ed Brown gets 37-year sentence

By Margot Sanger-Katz
for the Monitor

Ed Brown was sentenced to 37 years in federal prison yesterday for his role in orchestrating the nearly nine-month standoff at his Plainfield home that attracted national attention, drew hundreds of supporters and ended when undercover U.S. marshals arrested Brown and his wife, finding the house stuffed with guns and homemade explosive devices.

The judge, George Singal, chose a sentence lower than that recommended by the federal sentencing guidelines but long enough to mean that Brown, 67, will likely die in prison. His wife, Elaine Brown, 68, who was convicted of similar crimes, was sentenced last year to 35 years in prison. Four key supporters who lived with the Browns and helped bring them guns, food and bomb-making supplies, have already been sentenced to prison terms - one for 36 years.

"It's a sad case in many ways," Singal said, before announcing the sentence. "It is sad that Mr. Brown and his beliefs have caused others to be entrapped in his web."

Brown, a retired cockroach exterminator and onetime militia leader, was unrepentant to the end. Dressed in a khaki Strafford County jail uniform, Brown refused to stand for the judge, repeatedly interrupted the proceedings with complaints and mocking laughter, and used his final opportunity to address the court to deliver a long rant about the U.S. attorney's involvement in a worldwide conspiracy to undermine the Constitution and rob individuals of their legal rights.

"I didn't hurt those men - they destroyed us," Brown said. "The Freemasons, Zionists, Jesuits, Knights Templar, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Moose Lodge. Hey, they're everywhere."

When Singal began to explain his sentencing rationale, Brown asked to leave the courtroom, and he was not present when his sentence was announced.

Prosecutors had sought a stiffer sentence, in line with federal sentencing guidelines. Brown faced a 30-year mandatory minimum sentence for one charge alone, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Arnold Huftalen asked for a total term between 47½ years and 51 years 8 months for Brown, arguing that such a sentence would deter Brown's supporters and reflected the seriousness of Brown's actions, which he said could have resulted in the deaths of many U.S. marshals if Brown had been able to use his arsenal in a "violent confrontation" with law enforcement.

"It is not an overstatement to say that no more dangerous man has been sentenced in this courthouse," Huftalen said. "Nor is it an overstatement to say, in all likelihood, no more dangerous man is likely to be sentenced in this courthouse in the coming years."

Brown's lawyer, Michael Iacopino, requested the shortest sentence possible under the law - 30 years and 1 month - arguing that Brown's age and the fact that no one was harmed during the standoff mitigated against a longer term.

"It puts him right up there with people who have killed people," Iacopino said.

Singal chose a middle ground, saying that 37 years was enough to reflect the seriousness of Brown's crimes. He expressed disappointment that Brown had shown no remorse and had failed to acknowledge his negative influence on the lives of his wife and supporters.

"I have no doubt in my mind that Mr. Brown would have killed multiple marshals had they not dealt with him so effectively," Singal said.

The federal Bureau of Prisons will determine where Brown will serve his sentence. Elaine Brown is currently incarcerated at the Federal Medical Center Carswell, a prison in Fort Worth, Texas.

The standoff

Brown and his wife were first arrested in 2006 for tax evasion, after the pair refused to pay federal income taxes on more than $1.2 million that Elaine Brown had earned as a dentist. The couple represented themselves at trial in January 2007, arguing that they were not subject to federal taxes or the court's jurisdiction.

When they became convinced the trial was stacked against them, they retreated to their concrete, castle-like home, located on 110 acres and equipped with an observation tower, a years-long supply of dehydrated food and independent water and electric sources. From the start, Ed Brown promised a showdown, telling his friends that he expected "another Waco" and issuing repeated threats against federal agents, prosecutors and the judge in his tax case.

The standoff continued for months, with a rotating cast of anti-government allies visiting the house and helping the couple prepare for an armed confrontation. The Browns invited reporters for interviews and used blogs, internet radio shows and social networking websites to spread news about the standoff and request needed supplies - later delivered - including a German shepherd puppy, night vision goggles and roofing nails, "bigger better."

U.S. Marshals attempted to arrest Brown in June 2007, but their planned ruse to capture him at the foot of his driveway was foiled when a supporter stumbled upon hidden agents in the woods. It was not until October that the marshals tried again and succeeded in arresting both Browns without firing a single gunshot.

At the time of the Browns' arrest, federal agents found the house filled with guns, bombs and ammunition strategically placed around the property. Ed Brown's bedroom closet featured a rack filled with 22 operational pipe bombs, and dozens of other improvised explosive devices and rifles were scattered throughout the house, most near windows with sight lines around the property. Exploding rifle targets were found nailed to trees around the property line, and boxes of homemade guns were found, some partially assembled, in the basement. One veteran agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives described the stash as the largest he'd ever seen.

The trial

Last year, a jury found Brown guilty of two counts of conspiracy, using a destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence, obstruction of justice, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and failure to appear for trial and sentencing hearings.

The sentencing hearing yesterday came after a proceeding to determine Brown's competency. Iacopino had not questioned his client's mental state before the trial, but he asked the court to order a mental health evaluation afterward, when Brown stopped communicating with him and began exhibiting behavior that his lawyer described as "delusional."

As they did during their tax trial, the Browns insisted on representing themselves for much of the period leading up to their trial, and they filed numerous pleadings - most dismissed as frivolous - questioning the jurisdiction of the court, the legitimacy of the charges and the constitutional basis of many of the judge's actions.

At times, they argued that their case could be resolved through bonds, though they were not charged with any financial crimes. At others, they asserted that the court was invalid because the U.S. flag inside the courtroom bore a gold fringe.

The forensic psychologist who examined Brown told the court that Brown's conduct was influenced by a narcissistic personality disorder, marked by "grandiosity, need for attention and lack of empathy." But he said Brown's unusual behavior was ultimately the product of ideology, not mental illness.

"The beliefs held by Mr. Brown are also held by a broad subculture," wrote Dr. Shawn Channell, who compared Brown's views with the "unrealistic" beliefs held by members of organized religions.

Iacopino told the judge that he planned to file a notice of appeal after the hearing but said he did not expect Brown to discuss the case with him or cooperate on any appeal.

U.S. Attorney John Kacavas said after the hearing that he was satisfied by the sentence and hoped it would send a strong message to likeminded extremists about the consequences of taking similar actions. But he acknowledged that even a life sentence might not dissuade those as ideologically committed as Brown.

"People who are fundamentalist in their beliefs are often not dissuaded by reason or long incarceration," he said.

Few such sympathizers were visible yesterday. Elaine Brown's sentencing was attended by both family members and anti-government supporters. Yesterday, only one longtime friend of the Browns', Marie Miller of Farmington, sat in the courtroom.

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