Defense rests in trial of 4 men in Gov. Whitmer kidnap plot

Mar 30, 2022, 8:51 PM | Updated: Mar 31, 2022, 11:11 pm

Defense attorneys quickly rested their case Thursday after one of four men charged with plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer repeatedly said “absolutely not” when asked if he had agreed to abduct her before the 2020 election.

Daniel Harris was the only defendant to speak to jurors on the 14th day of trial. It was a risky, dramatic shift following days of testimony from undercover FBI agents, a gutsy informant and two men who have pleaded guilty and pointed fingers at the rest.

Closing arguments were planned for Friday.

Harris, Adam Fox, Barry Croft Jr., and Brandon Caserta are accused of conspiring to kidnap Whitmer from her vacation home in northern Michigan because of their disgust with government and her tough COVID-19 restrictions.

Only Harris’ lawyer offered a few witnesses Wednesday after prosecutors finished presenting their evidence that same day.

Harris, 24, a former Marine, said he wanted to maintain his infantry skills when he joined a militia, the Wolverine Watchmen, not snatch Whitmer or blow up a nearby bridge.

But after friendly questions from a defense lawyer, the atmosphere in court turned tense as a prosecutor confronted Harris with his chat messages about posing as a pizza deliveryman and killing Whitmer at the door. He also reminded Harris that he worked with explosives while training with the group.

Harris and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Roth sometimes talked over each other. At one point, Harris snapped, “Next question.”

“Everyone can take it down a notch,” U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker said later.

Soon after swearing to tell the truth, Harris repeatedly rejected claims that he was involved in crimes. He said “America was on fire” in 2020 over the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, protests over police treatment of Black people and a pandemic that shut down parts of the economy.

A key part of the government’s case is a firearms training weekend at Luther, Michigan, in September 2020 with a “shoot house” that was intended to replicate Whitmer’s second home. Harris admitted that he brought materials but said he didn’t build it with her house in mind.

“Did you agree to kidnap the governor of Michigan?” defense attorney Julia Kelly asked many times.

“Absolutely not,” Harris replied.

He didn’t participate in an evening ride to Elk Rapids, Michigan, to scout Whitmer’s second home and a bridge during that same training weekend. Harris said he had purchased $200 of cheap beer and cigarettes so he could return to the camp and “get wasted” with others.

“I had assumed they went to a strip club or a bar,” Harris said of Fox and Croft.

The men were arrested in October 2020 amid talk of raising $4,000 for an explosive that could blow up a bridge and hold back police from responding to a kidnapping, according to trial testimony.

Defense attorneys claim the men simply were engaged in a lot of wild talk fueled by agents and informants but no conspiracy.

The prosecutor covered much ground during Harris’ cross-examination, often referring to recordings or text messages to challenge testimony. Roth noted that Harris had said the Founding Fathers would have approved of killing certain officials.

“Tyrants,” Harris told Roth.

“Was Gov. Whitmer a tyrant?” the prosecutor asked.

“Not really. She was just a governor to me,” Harris said, adding that she performed “poorly.”

Prosecutors played a conversation of Croft talking about militias overthrowing governments in various states and “breaking a few eggs.”

“When this man talks to you at a diner about killing people, you don’t stand up and walk out, do you sir?” Roth asked. “You don’t say, ‘This group is not for me,’ do you sir?”

“No,” Harris answered.

Two more men, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, pleaded guilty and cooperated with investigators. Garbin last week said the group acted willingly and hoped to strike before the election, cause national chaos and prevent Joe Biden from winning the presidency.

Michael Rataj, a Detroit-area defense lawyer not involved in the case, said sometimes bringing in a pack of witnesses for the defense doesn’t always fit. He said attorneys for the four men will peck away at the government’s evidence during closing arguments — “the textbook way to do it.”

As for Harris testifying, Rataj said it can be dicey.

“The FBI has recorded them, and for him to say anything different than what’s recorded makes it look like he’s lying,” Rataj said. “It’s foolishness.”

Whitmer, a Democrat, rarely talks publicly about the kidnapping plot, though she referred to “surprises” during her term that seemed like “something out of fiction” when she filed for reelection on March 17.

She has blamed former President Donald Trump for fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn right-wing extremists like those charged in the case. Whitmer has said Trump was complicit in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.


Find AP’s full coverage of the Whitmer kidnap plot trial at:


White reported from Detroit. AP reporter Michael Tarm contributed from Chicago.

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


FILE - Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer speaks inside the Recorders Office, Nov. 9, 2022, in...
Associated Press

Dominion conspiracies highlighted by Fox lawsuit have election officials concerned for safety

Maricopa County officials are bracing for what could happen when it comes time to replace its contract for voting equipment.
1 day ago
A building is damaged and trees are down after severe storm swept through Little Rock, Ark., Friday...
Associated Press

Tornado causes widespread damage to buildings, vehicles in Little Rock

A tornado raced through Little Rock and surrounding areas Friday, splintering homes, overturning vehicles and tossing trees.
1 day ago
FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks with reporters while in flight on his plane after a cam...
Associated Press

Worries grow that Trump indictment could undermine public confidence in other investigations

Trump’s attempts to overturn those results amid false claims of widespread fraud are at the heart of two other ongoing investigations.
1 day ago
(Facebook Photo/Superior Court of Arizona in Yavapai County)...
Associated Press

Arizona judge has cases reassigned following DUI arrest

The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that all cases currently assigned to a Yavapai County Superior Court judge recently arrested on suspicion of extreme DUI will be reassigned to other judges.
5 days ago
Haitian migrant Gerson Solay, 28, carries his daughter, Bianca, as he and his family cross into Can...
Associated Press

US, Canada to end loophole that allows asylum-seekers to move between countries

President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday announced a plan to close a loophole to an immigration agreement.
8 days ago
Expert skateboarder Di'Orr Greenwood, an artist born and raised in the Navajo Nation in Arizona and...
Associated Press

Indigenous skateboard art featured on new stamps unveiled at Phoenix skate park

The Postal Service unveiled the “Art of the Skateboard" stamps at a Phoenix skate park, featuring designs from Indigenous artists.
8 days ago

Sponsored Articles

(Photo by Michael Matthey/picture alliance via Getty Images)...
Cox Communications

Valley Boys & Girls Club uses esports to help kids make healthy choices

KTAR’s Community Spotlight focuses on the Boys & Girls Club of the Valley and the work to incorporate esports into children's lives.
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet edges out cable for everyday use

In a world where technology drives so much of our daily lives, a lack of high-speed internet can be a major issue.
(Desert Institute for Spine Care photo)...

Why DISC is world renowned for back and neck pain treatments

Fifty percent of Americans and 90% of people at least 50 years old have some level of degenerative disc disease.
Defense rests in trial of 4 men in Gov. Whitmer kidnap plot