Two members of the Forever Enduring Always Ready (FEAR) militia pleaded guilty Thursday at the Long County Courthouse to the December 2011 murders of Tiffany York, 17, and Michael Roark, 19.
Christopher Salmon, 27, and Anthony Peden, 28, were arrested more than two years ago following an investigation into the militia’s operation and the teens’ deaths at Morgan Lake.
Special Prosecutor Isabel Pauley told presiding Judge Robert Russell III that Salmon had been the second-highest-ranking F.E.A.R. member, and that he and group leader Isaac Aguigui were good friends. She said the two lived together after Aguigui’s wife’s murder, which Aguigui was convicted of. Aguigui ordered Salmon to carry out the 2011 killings, according to Pauley, who said York was killed immediately upon the group’s arrival at Morgan Lake in Long County, but Roark was emotionally terrorized before he was executed.
After Pauley concluded her testimony, Russell asked Salmon to describe the events that led to the December shootings.
Salmon explained how he became the “hit man” for Aguigui and the militia.
“He (Aguigui) had come into $500,000 from his wife’s death. He said that he wanted some people killed, and I said that I would be willing to be that person to kill them,” Salmon said.
He said F.E.A.R. members aspired to turn a small “killing team” into a full-grown militia. Roark, tasked with being a “runner,” purchased materials the militia needed using Aguigui’s credit card. The group discovered that Roark had used the card to make between $20,000 and $30,000 worth of purchases that were not authorized by F.E.A.R.
“This showed that he couldn’t be trusted and was a possible liability to the group,” Salmon said.
After that, Roark stopped coming around for a while, but he eventually came back and brought York with him. He said that the group members did not want her around because she was 17 years old. Salmon said one of the teens once inadvertently left a cellphone behind following a militia gathering. The remaining F.E.A.R. members read the text messages on the phone.
“We viewed text messages on their phone, indicating that they were going to California and they were possibly going to contact the police. This was too much of a liability than we could tolerate, so we decided that they needed to be killed to silence them,” Salmon said.
Salmon said that he, Peden, Aguigui and Michael Burnett went in Aguigui’s Jeep to Morgan Lake, and Roark and York followed them.
“Tiffany York was starting to step out (of the vehicle). At that point, Anthony Peden, using the revolver, shot her twice … (After Aguigui questioned Roark) he gave me a signal that I needed to shoot Michael Roark. I shot him in the head. I started to walk away, and he told me to shoot him again. I did and got back in the vehicle,” Salmon said.
Salmon said the men washed Aguigui’s Jeep, took showers and bagged their clothes, which later were burned at Peden’s home. He said that Peden told the group that the murder weapons had been placed in different bodies of water.
After Salmon’s testimony, Russell accepted the negotiated plea, in which he pleaded guilty to two counts of malice murder, two counts of violating the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act and one count of making a false statement to law-enforcement officers. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
After sentencing, Salmon told members of York’s and Roark’s families that he was sorry for what he did, and that he hopes they will one day find peace.
Roark’s mother, Tracey Jahr, her life partner, Jackie Gilmore, and Roark’s grandfather, Michael Jahr, all spoke in court, expressing the sorrow that stemmed from their loss. The picture they painted of Roark differed greatly from Salmon’s.
“I don’t believe that you are sorry. I don’t think that you were sorry on Dec. 6, and I don’t think that you are sorry now. So there is nothing you can say that can make me believe that. You took my child, and I do not forgive you,” Tracey Jahr said.
“I just want everyone to understand the type of person that Michael was. He was the type of person that sat back — while the rest of you went out and did your partying — to babysit your kids. That was Michael’s role in your outfit. It wasn’t the role of being a part of the terrorist group. It wasn’t the role of planning and murdering and thieving activity. … It doesn’t sound like somebody who would be a menace to anyone or who would hurt anybody or have ill will,” Michael Jahr said.
Later Thursday, Peden went before Russell, also admitting his guilt in the shootings. The judge handed down a lifetime prison sentence. Peden, unlike Salmon, will get a second hearing, which will determine whether the possibility of future parole eligibility exists. With the special stipulation, Russell only advised Peden of his rights and asked whether he understood all the proceedings.
With the sentencing hearing still to come, the judge said he would not hear any of the details surrounding Peden’s involvement. Peden pleaded guilty to two counts of malice murder and two counts of violating the Street Gang Terrorism Prevention Act.