A federal judge ordered a separate trial on machine-gun charges Wednesday for one member of the Viper Militia, the paramilitary group accused of conspiring against the federal government.
U.S. District Judge Earl Carroll set a Dec. 3 trial date for Gary Curtis Bauer, who faces seven charges of unlawful possession of a machine gun in the 19-count indictment against Viper members.
Carroll also ordered trial to begin Jan. 28 for all 12 defendants on conspiracy charges of making explosive devices and furnishing instruction in how to use them as part of a plot against the government.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Frederick Battista, the lead prosecutor in the case, said Carroll’s action is expected to be the first in a series to separate firearms charges in the case from those dealing with explosives.
“It appears he intends to set subsequent individual machine-gun trials,” Battista said.
Randy Lynne Nelson, Dean Carl Pleasant, David Wayne Belliveau and Walter Earl Sanville also face various charges of possessing machine guns. Battista said any further separate trials would be scheduled between Dec. 3 and Jan. 28.
Federal agents searching Bauer’s home in July seized three 9 mm submachine guns, three fully automatic rifles and one fully automatic pistol.
Bauer’s attorney, James Logan, declined to comment on Carroll’s ruling.
The 12 militia members were arrested July 1 after a seven-month undercover investigation. The government accused the group of plotting to blow up federal buildings in Phoenix.
Bauer, Nelson, Belliveau and Pleasant are among six defendants still in custody. Sanville and five others were released July 11 under conditions of house arrest pending trial.
Among the other items federal agents seized during searches of the defendants’ homes were dynamite, projectiles and explosives that included more than 500 pounds of ammonium nitrate - the key ingredient in last year’s bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City.
Defense lawyers insist their clients aren’t terrorists. Investigators have conceded in court that the group never posed an imminent threat nor had a specific plot.
If convicted, the defendants face penalties ranging from five to 35 years in prison and fines of $250,000 to $1.25 million.