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Alabama militia members sentenced

BIRMINGHAM (AP) — A judge sentenced two militia members to federal prison for more than three years each Tuesday for helping make hand grenades in an arsenal that supposedly was to be used if chaos descended on their corner of rural Northeast Alabama.

James Ray McElroy, 20, of Collinsville was sentenced to 41 months in prison, and Randall Garrett Cole, 22, of Gadsden was ordered to spend 37 months in prison.

Both men admitted being part of a militia that authorities said feared the government and disliked illegal immigrants. McElroy, Cole and three other men who pleaded guilty to weapons charges previously said they made and stored grenades out of fear of an economic collapse, terrorism and martial law being imposed in the United States.

"I realize what I've done, and I'm sorry for it," McElroy told U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon.

Both McElroy and Cole pleaded guilty to conspiring to make hand grenades and other weapons.

The other defendants who pleaded guilty will be sentenced later, and an alleged leader of the group awaits trial.

Weapons seized

Agents who conducted a series of raids in April seized items including 130 hand grenades, a grenade launcher, about 70 hand grenades rigged to fire from a rifle, a machine gun, a sawed-off shotgun, 2,500 rounds of ammunition and stolen fireworks that were used as a source of explosive powder.

Authorities said the group called itself the Free Militia or the Alabama Free Militia, but members said it was too disorganized to have a name. Many of its activities centered around a ramshackle camper without running water or electricity.

"We just called it the militia," said Raymond Dillard, who held the rank of major and testified during the sentencing hearing for Cole.

Dillard, who is awaiting sentencing, said he recruited Cole to join the group. He admitted once threatening to kill Cole, but only to prevent another man — the government's main confidential informant in the case — from killing Cole first.

Aggravated by teasing from Cole, the informant once pulled out a 9mm handgun and put it to Cole's head, threatening to pull the trigger.

"All I did was said, `Naw, I'd shoot him if he needs to be shot,' " said Dillard.

Dillard said members of the militia sometimes talked about being afraid of what the government might do to them should fighting break out over illegal immigrants or terrorists, but he didn't elaborate.

Cole testified he quit associating with militia members in April the day after he welded caps on the open ends of 11 dummy hand grenades so they would hold powder.

"It was getting too serious. Before that they were just talking about things, and then they had me do something. I didn't want to be around them," he said.

The judge ordered McElroy and Cole to undergo drug and alcohol counseling.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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