EXPLAINER: Charges in Michigan Gov. Whitmer kidnap plot case
Apr 8, 2022, 1:24 PM | Updated: Apr 9, 2022, 3:35 pm
CHICAGO (AP) — Jurors on Friday acquitted two men and deadlocked on two others accused of plotting to abduct Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020. They concluded nearly five days of deliberations after weeks of testimony in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Here’s a look at the charges:
WHO WERE THE DEFENDANTS?
Six men were initially charged but two pleaded guilty before trial.
The remaining defendants included Adam Fox, described by prosecutors as the plot’s ringleader. He and co-defendant Barry Croft Jr. were affiliated with the “Three Percenter” far-right anti-government movement. They may be tried again after the jury hit an impasse on their charges.
The other two defendants, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta — who were found not guilty of all charges — were members of the Wolverine Watchmen, a self-styled militia with similar views, according to prosecutors.
Ty Garbin pleaded guilty last year and Kaleb Franks joined him in February. Both were government witnesses at trial.
WHAT WERE THE CHARGES?
All four were charged with kidnapping conspiracy.
According to prosecutors, the defendants plotted from June to October 2020 to abduct Whitmer from her vacation home in northern Michigan because they were infuriated by what they saw as her overly restrictive policies during the pandemic.
Fox, Croft and Harris were also charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. Prosecutors said they sought to construct and buy explosives, with the aim of destroying a bridge near Whitmer’s cottage to stymie police during the kidnapping. Harris was acquitted on the charge.
Croft and Harris were charged with possession of an unregistered destructive device — a firework wrapped with pennies that could serve as shrapnel. Harris was acquitted.
Harris was the only one charged with possession of a semi-automatic assault rifle with a barrel less than 16 inches long that wasn’t registered to him. He was acquitted.
WHAT WERE THE POTENTIAL SENTENCES?
The kidnapping conspiracy and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction charges carried maximum life sentences.
Garbin has already been sentenced to six years in prison, and Franks is expected to receive a lighter sentence than if he had lost at trial.
WHAT WAS REQUIRED FOR CONVICTIONS?
The defendants never achieved their purported goal of kidnapping Whitmer. Unbeknownst to them, the FBI had infiltrated their group and was closely monitoring them. They were arrested in October 2020.
Defense attorneys portrayed their clients as weekend warriors prone to big, wild talk, who were often stoned. To prove it was deadly serious, prosecutors entered evidence showing the defendants took specific steps, referred to as “overt acts,” toward implementing their plans.
Jury instructions explained that convictions on the kidnapping and weapons conspiracy charges required evidence that each defendant committed at least one of the long list of overt acts in the indictment.
Proof that a defendant simply knew about the conspiracy or associated with members of the conspiracy wasn’t enough.
WHAT WERE THE ALLEGED OVERT ACTS?
They included that Fox proposed the kidnapping of Whitmer on Aug. 23, 2020, during a meeting with Harris and Caserta. Another was that the men scrutinized each other’s IDs in a bid to ensure no one was an undercover agent.
Another was that Fox, Croft, Harris and Caserta held field-training exercises in September 2020, practicing tactics for fighting Whitmer’s security detail.
The indictment attributed another overt act on Oct. 7, 2020, to Caserta, alleging he instructed co-conspirators that, if they encountered police, they should give the officers one chance to leave, then kill them.
Alleged overt acts on the weapons of mass destruction charge included that Harris boasted on May 1, 2020, that he was a Marine Corps veteran who “can make things go boom if you give me what I need.”
WHAT WAS THE ROLE OF ENTRAPMENT?
The defense mounted an entrapment defense at trial, accusing the FBI of engaging in the barred investigatory practice. Jurors who find authorities tricked or cajoled targets into committing crimes they showed no predisposition to commit were supposed to return with not guilty verdicts.
Prosecutors had the burden of proving defendants weren’t entrapped. At trial, they sought to show that not only were the men predisposed to joining the kidnap plot but that they discussed such schemes before the FBI sting began.
Find AP’s full coverage of the Whitmer kidnap plot trial at: https://apnews.com/hub/whitmer-kidnap-plot-trial
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