Trial next for 4 accused in Michigan governor kidnap plot

Mar 7, 2022, 9:20 AM | Updated: 9:50 am

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Were they gullible foul-mouthed men under the spell of undercover agents? Or a rogue cast seething with enough anger to actually want to kidnap Michigan’s governor?

Jury selection begins Tuesday in the trial of four men who are accused of conspiring to snatch Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in a stunning scheme to retaliate against her stay-home policies and other COVID-19 restrictions during the early months of the pandemic.

In 2020, Whitmer, a Democrat, was trading taunts with then-President Donald Trump over his administration’s response to COVID-19. Her critics, meanwhile, were regularly protesting at the Michigan Capitol, clogging streets around the statehouse and legally carrying semi-automatic rifles into the building.

During that turbulent time, Adam Fox, Brandon Caserta, Barry Croft Jr. and Daniel Harris were plotting to snatch Whitmer, prosecutors say. They’re accused of taking critical steps over several months, including secret messaging, gun drills in the woods and a night drive to northern Michigan to scout her second home and figure out how to blow up a bridge.

The FBI, which had infiltrated the group, said it thwarted the plan with the arrests of six men in October 2020. Two of them, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, have pleaded guilty and will appear as crucial witnesses for the government, giving jurors an inside view of what was planned.

Garbin, for example, said Fox, the alleged ringleader, wanted the men to chip in for a $4,000 explosive large enough to destroy a bridge near Whitmer’s home and distract police during a kidnapping.

“The blood of tyrants needs to be shed,” Garbin quoted Caserta as saying during a meeting.

Garbin and Franks insist no one in the group acted because of excessive influence by agents or undercover informants.

“It is not the end of the case for the defense, but it’s a big obstacle to overcome,” John Smietanka, a former federal prosecutor, said of the pair’s cooperation. “It’s going to come down to the credibility of witnesses plus the effect of any extrinsic evidence, like tapes.”

Indeed, prosecutors said much of the evidence will be the defendants’ own words gathered during secret recordings. The government will also offer screenshots of text messages as well as photos and videos posted on social media.

Ahead of the trial, defense lawyers panned the case, especially the “staggering use” of informants. They deny any conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer and have signaled an entrapment defense.

“The agents and snitches recruited the defendants, arranged meetings, paid for travel, paid for hotels, rented cars, produced promotional videos demonstrating explosives, purchased equipment, vetted new members, hatched the ideas and directed the operations,” said Joshua Blanchard, who is Croft’s attorney.

Defense lawyer Christopher Gibbons said Fox did not want to kidnap Whitmer, though he made “many inflammatory remarks” about the governor and what he considered to be unconstitutional acts.

Agents and informants were the “binding force and catalyst for every event, impassioned speech and nearly every suggestion of criminality,” Gibbons said in a court filing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler said informants were paid to collect information, not to induce crimes.

“The things they recorded were the defendants’ own words. That’s what makes the defendants look guilty,” Kessler told a judge Friday.

A successful entrapment defense requires evidence that the government induced someone to commit a crime that they otherwise wouldn’t be inclined to carry out, Smietanka said.

Whitmer, who is seeking reelection this year, rarely talks publicly about the case and isn’t expected to attend the trial, which could last more than a month in federal court in Grand Rapids. After charges were filed in 2020, just weeks before the fall election, she accused Trump of “giving comfort” to antigovernment extremists with his rhetoric.

“The plots and threats against me, no matter how disturbing, could not deter me from doing everything I could to save as many lives as possible by listening to medical and health experts,” Whitmer said last summer, referring to COVID-19.

Separately, authorities in state court are prosecuting eight men who are accused of aiding the group.

___

White reported from Detroit.

___

Find AP’s full coverage of the Whitmer kidnap plot trial at: https://apnews.com/hub/whitmer-kidnap-plot-trial

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

AP

FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and Hong Kong's new Chief Executive Carrie Lam attend th...
Associated Press

China’s Xi to visit Hong Kong for handover anniversary

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese leader Xi Jinping will visit Hong Kong this week to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the former British colony’s 1997 return to China, a state news agency said Saturday, in his first trip outside the mainland since the start of the coronavirus pandemic 2 1/2 years ago. Xi also will attend […]
21 hours ago
FILE - Planes sit on the tarmac at the Des Moines International Airport, Monday, June 13, 2022, in ...
Associated Press

Airlines aim to shift blame for flight problems to FAA

DALLAS (AP) — Airlines under scrutiny for widespread flight disruptions are renewing their criticism of the government agency that manages the nation’s airspace, saying that understaffing at the Federal Aviation Administration is “crippling” traffic along the East Coast. Airlines for America, which represents the largest U.S. carriers, said Friday it wants to know FAA’s staffing […]
21 hours ago
FILE - Investigators search for evidences outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, May 25, ...
Associated Press

Graduating Uvalde High School class remembers slain children

UVALDE, Texas (AP) — Almost 300 high school seniors received their diplomas Friday in Uvalde in the shadow of the massacre of 19 elementary school students and two teachers one month earlier. The 288 red-gowned Uvalde High School seniors sat in 100-degree heat at the school stadium on the one-month anniversary of the mass shootings. […]
21 hours ago
Nancy Lee Grahn arrives with the words "Reproductive Freedom" on her body and carries a purse with ...
Associated Press

‘General Hospital’ sweeps supporting nods at Daytime Emmys

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Two “General Hospital” actors have won supporting honors at the Daytime Emmy Awards. Kelly Thiebaud plays Dr. Britt Westbourne and Jeff Kober portrays Cyrus Renault on the ABC drama. A gleeful Thiebaud won on her first nomination Friday night. “I cannot believe this. I am so shocked,” she said. “My brother, […]
21 hours ago
Associated Press

California GOP Rep. Valadao advances in US House district

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Rep. David Valadao advanced Friday to a November runoff in a Democratic-tilting district in California’s Central Valley, surviving a challenge from a fellow Republican who faulted the congressman for his vote to impeach then-President Donald Trump. With most of the votes tallied in the 22nd District, Valadao had about 26% of […]
21 hours ago
A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for children 6 months through 5 years old is seen, Tuesday, ...
Associated Press

Moderna COVID-19 shots now an option for older kids in US

NEW YORK (AP) — There is now a second COVID-19 option for kids ages 6 to 17 in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday announced it is recommending Moderna shots as an option for school-age kids and teens. This group has been able to get shots made by Pfizer since […]
21 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air

Tips to lower your energy bill in the Arizona heat

Does your summer electric bill make you groan? Are you looking for effective ways to reduce your bill?
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

ADHS mobile program brings COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to Arizonans

The Arizona Department of Health Services and partner agencies are providing even more widespread availability by making COVID-19 vaccines available in neighborhoods through trusted community partners.
...
Canvas Annuity

The secret to guaranteed retirement income

Annuities aren’t really a secret, but they are so misunderstood that they might as well be. Once you understand what an annuity is and how it can benefit you, you could decide this “secret” is the perfect supplement to your retirement plan.
Trial next for 4 accused in Michigan governor kidnap plot