A New Hampshire woman sentenced to 35 years in prison Friday for plotting to kill federal agents during a nine-month standoff at her fortress-like home said she will continue to fight government corruption from behind bars.
At her sentencing hearing, Elaine Brown said the judge's decision mattered little to her given her age and beliefs.
"I'm 68 years old. I don't have much time left on this Earth. But I have no doubt I will spend eternity with my husband and a myriad of others who have fought tyranny and oppression," she said, pausing several times to clear her throat but maintaining a defiant tone.
She and her husband, Ed, holed up in their 110-acre compound in Plainfield in early 2007 after being sentenced to five years in prison for tax evasion. They were arrested nine months later by federal agents posing as supporters, and were convicted in July on a variety of weapons and conspiracy charges.
Brown insisted that she and her husband were being punished for nothing more than civil disobedience and "daring to challenge and question this massive government."
"Our state motto is 'Live free or Die,' which is what we proclaimed over and over during our resistance," she said. "I will always resist."
Judge: 'It was a threat to kill'
The sentence fell between the 30 years plus one month the defense requested and the 41-44 years the prosecution sought.
Judge George Singal rejected Brown's civil disobedience argument, saying she was not engaged in principled dissent to laws she believed to be unjust.
"Let's not be fooled," he said. "The conduct engaged in by Mrs. Brown was purely criminal conduct. It was a threat to kill without a trial, without a hearing."
One of the charges — possession of destructive devices — carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison. Defense attorney Bjorne Lange argued that adding just one more month to that sentence would have been sufficient, saying there was no evidence Brown handled any of the weapons or explosives, other than the handgun she was holding when arrested.
Lange also urged the judge to take into account Brown's past: She worked her way through dental school, raised two children and had no brushes with the law until her arrest on the tax evasion charges.
"They want you to look at what happened at the time of the offense and say that's the sum of Elaine Brown," said Lange, who also requested the lower sentence in part because no one was hurt during the standoff.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Arnold Huftalen countered that the only reason no one got hurt was because the U.S. Marshal Service was so patient, ignoring requests from him and others to end the standoff earlier.
"To stand before you now and say, 'Please be compassionate because I didn't get the opportunity to kill anyone,' is a statement I think should cause the court to look in the opposite direction," he said.
The prosecutor described the weapons strewn about the couple's home — 22 pipe bombs and a 50 caliber rifle in the bedroom alongside Elaine Brown's stuffed animal collection. Bulletproof vests and ammunition in the closet with the jigsaw puzzles. An explosive device on the jelly cupboard in the kitchen.
The handgun Brown carried was capable of killing 17 people without reloading, Huftalen said, and there was a fanny pack full of extra bullets on the kitchen table.
Brown may have raised her own children well, but she also "mothered" supporters who were drawn to the home, Huftalen said, including a 21-year-old who is now serving 20 years in prison for his role in the standoff.
"This was her house. Mr. Brown was certainly seen as the patriarch, but she was there. She ran it, she financed it ... and she encouraged people to come in," he said.
During the couple's second trial, Ed Brown testified that the weapons were for self defense and that explosives in the woods around the home were to scare intruders, not harm them. But in a radio interview during the standoff, he said if authorities came in to kill him or arrest him "the chief of police in this town, the sheriff, the sheriff himself will die. This is war now, folks."
His sentencing has been delayed while he undergoes a psychiatric evaluation to determine his competency.