Tax evading Browns lose federal appeal of convictions following NH stand-off
BOSTON - Elaine and Edward Brown, the Plainfield convicted tax evaders who holed up in their fortress-like home for nine months in a stand-off with federal marshals, will remain in prison after their appeals were rejected by the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Browns were convicted in January 2007 but, instead of appearing in U.S. District Court in Concord for sentencing, they retreated to their 100-acre property stockpiled with weapons.
The court, in its 48-page ruling issued Thursday, summarized what happened leading up to the Browns' arrests. The U.S. Marshals conducted surveillance of the property and decided to try to arrest Mr. Brown during his daily all-terrain trip to the mailbox. The federal agents hid in the woods on June 7, 2007 waiting for him but were outed by the couple's dog while being walked by Daniel Riley, a friend of the Browns. The federal agents fired non-lethal ammunition at Daniel Riley as he fled, but missed. He was eventually taken into custody after being zapped with a stun gun.
Mr. Brown heard the commotion and appeared at the tower on top of his house with a .50-caliber rifle but he did not fire.
By that time, the Browns had gained national notoriety and supporters were flocking to their home where they hosted festival-type gatherings publicizing their resistance. The Marshals decided to take advantage of that notoriety by posing undercover as supporters.
In October 2007, the Marshals learned the Browns wanted some property from the office of Mrs. Brown, who was a dentist. The undercover officers picked up the items and brought them to the Browns' home. They unloaded the property as Mr. Brown watched, an assault rifle leveled at them and expressing his reticence to trust people he didn't know.
According to the court ruling, Mr. Brown eventually warmed up to the undercover officers, and put down the rifle replacing it with a handgun in his waistband. Then he joined the federal agents in some beers and pizza. The group hung out on the Browns' front porch and, after Elaine joined them, an undercover officer signaled other Marshals who moved in to make the arrests.
Later, agents found "a vast supply of explosives, firearms, and ammunition, including rifles, armor piercing bullets, pipe bombs, and bombs nailed to trees," on the property, according to the court.
At trial, the couple was found guilty of numerous charges including plotting to kill federal agents during the 2007 standoff; conspiring to prevent federal officers from performing their duties; conspiring to assault, resist or impede federal officers; using or carrying a firearm or destructive device during a violent crime; possessing a firearm or destructive device, being a felon in possession of a firearm; obstruction of justice; failing to appear at sentencing. Mr. Brown was also charged with failing to appear at trial.
Edward Brown was sentence to 37 years, and Elaine Brown, 35 years.
On appeal, the Browns raised numerous challenges. He argued the federal judge should have held a hearing to determine his competency but the appellate court rejected that, saying though his behavior was often bizarre, it was not evidence of confusion but reflected "firmly held, idiosyncratic political beliefs punctuated with a suspicion of the judiciary." The court pointed out that his attorney never raised the issue of his competency.
Mr. Brown also argued he lacked the intent needed to commit the conspiracy counts to thwart the marshals from performing their duties because "he did not believe they were engaged in 'official duties' since he considers tax laws unconstitutional and therefore his tax trial convictions illegitimate." The justices rejected the argument outright, saying, "This circuitous logic is faulty."
The court also ruled statements by then U.S. Marshal Stephen Monier and another federal agent concerning threats the Browns made were not hearsay because they were admitted at trial not for their truth but to show why the marshals had come up with an elaborate plan to arrest the Browns. And, they said, testimony Monier gave as an "overview witness" of the case, was not improper.
Elaine Brown, the court also ruled, opened the door to those statements being admitted when during opening statements she said she had to protect herself against unlawful government force - force her counsel referred to as "the same sort of lethal government force as the civilian victims in the 1992 shooting of Randy Weaver's wife and son at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and of the 1993 government assault at the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas."
She also challenged the admission of several books recovered from her home including "The Anarchist Handbook" "Guerrilla Warfare and Special Forces Operations," "Unconventional Warfare Devices and Techniques," "Booby Traps," and "Modern Chemical Magic." She maintained admitting them was inflammatory and violated her rights to a fair trial.
The court again disagreed saying, at a minimum, the books and titles were relevant to show Mrs. Brown had knowledge of "how to conduct armed resistance against the government and the factual implementation of such resistance against the government. "