Source: Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office
Phoenix resident Michael Lee Crane, 31, charged with the murders of an elderly couple from Paradise Valley, Arizona, and a suspect in a third murder, recently used arguments from the anti-government extremist “sovereign citizen” movement when appearing in court following his arrest.
On January 26, 2012, after being called to a fire at a residence, Phoenix police discovered the body of a cigar salesman, Bruce Gaudet, who had been shot to death. Several days later, police in Paradise Valley, after finding a burning car on January 30 that belonged to Lawrence and Glenna Shapiro, went to their home to discover it too was on fire. They also found the burned and bound bodies of the elderly Shapiros, who had been shot to death. Preliminary ballistic reports suggest a match between the bullet casings in each incident.
Crane has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder (he has not yet been charged in connection with the Gaudet murder), two counts of kidnapping, two counts of armed robbery, one count of burglary, and one count of arson. Five other people have also been charged in connection with the case, primarily on charges of theft or trafficking in stolen property.
On February 10, Crane and two other defendants appeared in a Maricopa County court to determine their bonds. Courtroom video reveals that Crane attempted to use “sovereign citizen” arguments in his appearance before the magistrate. The sovereign citizen movement is an extreme right-wing anti-government movement that believes that the legitimate government was long ago infiltrated by a conspiracy and changed into an illegitimate, tyrannical government. Consequently, sovereign citizens believe that this “illegitimate” government has no authority or jurisdiction over them. In the past several years, the sovereign citizen movement has been experiencing a significant resurgence of adherents and activity, including criminal activity.
Asked by the judge for his name, Crane spelled his entire name out, specifying upper and lower case letters—sovereign citizens believe that if their name is written in all upper case letters, it is actually not referring to their “flesh and blood” person. Crane also declined to have an attorney appointed for him, which is common within the sovereign citizen movement.
At the end of the proceeding, the judge asked Crane if he had any questions. Crane replied no, but that “I have a statement I’d like to make.” He announced that he wanted to “reserve my right to Uniform Commercial Code 1–207 and the Uniform Commercial Code 1–103.” Sovereign citizens believe that the “conspiracy” replaced constitutional law with commercial law and that therefore the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) governs all legal matters. Many believe that all legal proceedings are also commercial transactions. Almost all sovereign citizens believe that they can avoid entering into “commerce” with the illegitimate government by reserving their rights under UCC 1–207 (now renumbered to UCC1-308).
The judge did not seem to recognize this common sovereign citizen reference and merely informed Crane that the UCC did not apply. Crane tried to get the judge to confirm that his appearance was a “commercial affair,” but the judge reiterated that it was actually a criminal proceeding. “Mmm, okay,” Crane replied doubtfully. “That’s what you say.”
It is possible that Crane, who has a past criminal history, became exposed to the arguments of the movement while incarcerated, as the movement has been spreading rapidly in prisons and jails across the country over the past decade.