2 men found not guilty of plotting to kidnap Michigan governor | CBC News


A jury on Friday acquitted two men of all charges in a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer but could not reach a verdict against the two alleged leaders, a stunning defeat for the government after a trial. of weeks that focused on an FBI undercover operation. operation just before the 2020 US presidential election.

The results were announced just hours after the jury said it was struggling to find unanimity on all 10 counts. The judge on the fifth day of deliberations told the panel to keep working, but jurors came back out after lunch to say they were still stuck on some points.

Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta were found not guilty of conspiracy. Additionally, Harris was acquitted of charges related to explosives and a weapon.

The jury was unable to reach verdicts for Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr., which means the government may retry them.

“Obviously we are disappointed with the result. We have two defendants who are awaiting trial and we will get back to work on that,” US Attorney Andrew Birge said, declining further comment.

Adam Fox, one of the defendants, is seen in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in this courtroom drawing in October 2020. (Jerry Lemenu via AP)

Harris and Caserta hugged their attorneys as US District Judge Robert Jonker said they were free after 18 months in prison awaiting trial. Family members moments before gasped and wept with joy as the verdicts were read.

During 13 days of testimony, prosecutors offered evidence of undercover agents, a key informant and two men who have pleaded guilty to the plot. Jurors also read and listened to secretly recorded conversations, violent social media posts and chat messages.

Ty Garbin, who has pleaded guilty and is serving a six-year prison sentence, said the plan was to trap Whitmer and cause enough chaos to spark a civil war before the 2020 election, preventing Joe Biden from winning the presidency.

The six, including Garbin and Kaleb Franks, who have also pleaded guilty and testified for the government, were arrested in October 2020 amid rumors of raising $4,000 for an explosive to blow up a bridge and hampering any police response to a kidnapping, according to trial testimony.

fbi sting

Prosecutors said the group was steeped in anti-government extremism and angry about Whitmer’s COVID-19 restrictions. There was evidence of a “shoot house” erected in Luther, Michigan to practice getting in and out of tight spaces at his vacation home.

But defense attorneys portrayed the men as gullible weekend warriors prone to talking a lot and often high on marijuana. They said agents and informants tricked and cajoled the men into attacking the governor.

Harris was the only defendant to testify in his own defense, repeatedly telling the jury “absolutely not” when asked if he had attacked the governor.

In this courtroom drawing, Daniel Harris, right, listens with attorney Parker Douglas during a hearing in federal court in Grand Rapids in October 2020. (Jerry Lemenu via AP)

“I think what the FBI did is inconceivable,” Caserta’s attorney, Michael Hills, said outside court.

“And I think the jury sent a loud and clear message to them that these tactics: We’re not going to stand for what you’ve done here.”

Fox’s attorney, Christopher Gibbons, said the acquittals of Harris and Caserta showed some serious flaws in the government’s case.

“We will be ready for another trial,” Gibbons said.

“Eventually we’re going to get what we wanted out of this, which is the truth and the justice that I think Adam is entitled to.”

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer at the White House on March 9. (Patrick Semansky/The Associated Press)

Deliberations resumed early Friday when a court clerk handed over a large plastic bag containing pennies, known as Exhibit 291. The pennies were requested before the jury went home Thursday.

The pennies attached to a commercial-grade firework were intended to act as shrapnel, investigators said.

According to evidence, a homemade explosive was detonated during training in September 2020, about a month before the men were arrested.

In this courtroom drawing, defendant Kaleb Franks listens to Assistant United States Attorney Nils Kessler during a hearing in federal court in Grand Rapids in October 2020. (Jerry Lemenu via AP)

In his closing argument on April 1, Assistant US Attorney Nils Kessler said Croft wanted to test the explosive as a possible weapon against Whitmer’s security team. He quoted him as saying that the pennies would be so hot they could “pierce your skin”.

The trial spanned 20 days from March 8, including jury selection, evidence, closing arguments, and jury deliberations.

Croft is from Bear, Del., while the others are from Michigan.

Whitmer blames Trump for fomenting anger

Whitmer, a Democrat, rarely speaks publicly about the plot, though she did refer to “surprises” during her tenure that seemed like “something out of fiction” when she ran for re-election on March 17.

He 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.

A jury of six women and six men heard the case, as well as four alternates. Little is known about them. Jonker ordered, for privacy reasons, that they only be identified by numbers. Two jurors were fired during the trial due to illness.

Separately, seven other men linked to a paramilitary group called the Wolverine Watchmen were charged in state court at the same time as the federal arrests. Those men are accused of planning to storm the Michigan Capitol and create a “civil war.”



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