A retired exterminator and his dentist wife held hands and talked in court Tuesday as a prosecutor called them dangerous anti-government radicals and their lawyers said it was reasonable for them to fear for their lives.
Ed and Elaine Brown face minimum 30-year prison sentences if convicted of federal weapons and conspiracy charges stemming from a nine-month standoff with law enforcement at their Plainfield home in 2007. Prosecutors say the mountaintop concrete castle was protected by an arsenal of homemade bombs, booby traps and semiautomatic assault-type rifles intended to kill anyone trying to arrest them.
Prosecutors told a federal jury that authorities became concerned when other anti-government activists picked up the Browns' cause and began bringing guns and other weapons and supplies to Plainfield, a rural town on the Vermont border.
"What started, you will hear, as a peaceful tax protest on the property of Ed and Elaine Brown very quickly became a training camp for something else," Assistant U.S. Attorney Arnold Huftalen said.
Ed Brown's attorney, Michael Iacopino, said his client acquired the arsenal out of fear and because he believed the government was at war with its people.
"Ed and Elaine Brown had a very reasonable basis for them to believe the government was trying to kill them," Iacopino said. He said jurors may find it hard to understand their views but should treat them fairly under the law.
They are charged with preventing federal officers from discharging their duties, conspiring against the government, possession of weapons as felons and failing to appear for sentencing.
Ed Brown, 68, and Elaine Brown, 66, retreated to their home after being convicted in early 2007 of evading taxes on nearly $2 million in income. They represented themselves at their tax trial, contending that no law authorizes the federal income tax and the 1913 constitutional amendment permitting it was never properly ratified.
Then-U.S. Marshal Stephen Monier testified that authorities decided initially to be patient about arresting the couple because their home was so remote and the couple might be armed. But evidence they were amassing an arsenal changed that.
In June 2007, U.S. marshals and local, state and other federal law enforcement agents began a raid on the property, but were thwarted when they encountered one of the Browns' supporters walking the Browns' dog in the woods, Huftalen said.
Elaine Brown's lawyer, Bjorn Lange, told the jury that that aborted raid and the massive law enforcement response that followed convinced the Browns their lives were in danger.
"Elaine Brown is not a wild-eyed radical," said Lange. "She is a thoughtful, conscientious person who's tried to live by her principles."
The Browns were arrested in October 2007 when they invited federal agents posing as supporters into their home, where they shared beer and pizza, Huftalen said. He said the agents used Tasers to subdue the couple, and the only injury was a scratch above Ed Brown's eye.
The couple have been serving their five-year sentences for tax evasion.