The last three men to stand trial in connection with a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have been found not guilty on all counts.
Eric Molitor and twin brothers William Null and Michael Null were among 14 men charged in state and federal court for the alleged plan to kidnap the governor from his Antrim County vacation home in 2020, in largely because of the Democratic governor’s strict shutdowns due to COVID-19.
Molitor, 39, and the Null brothers, both 41, had pleaded not guilty to charges of providing material support for terrorist acts and illegal possession of firearms.
The Antrim County jury returned its verdict Friday after about a day of deliberations following a three-week trial. Molitor burst into tears of relief after his verdict was read.
During closing arguments Wednesday, Assistant Attorney General William Rollstin told the jury that the defendants would help the ringleaders of the conspiracy “bring terrorism to Antrim County.”
“If you want to help someone knowing they planned a terrorist act, that’s wrong,” Rollstin said.
Molitor’s attorney, William Barnett, said in his closing statement that the state’s case was “weak” and accused prosecutors of trying to mislead jurors in their presentation of evidence.
“This case became a good story that they couldn’t take back. They’re out here cutting corners to try to convict someone, an innocent person,” Barnett said.
Prosecutors argued during the trial that the three men “hated” their government and contributed to the kidnapping plot, with the Nulls providing the “muscle” and Molitor recording video of Whitmer’s property in Antrim County .
William Null and Molitor testified in their own defense, saying they did not learn of the true nature of the plot until the last minute.
William Null told the jury that during a nighttime surveillance mission, he did not know they were going to the governor’s cabin.
Molitor testified that he feared for his life while watching the cabin with Adam Fox, one of the leaders of the plot who was convicted on federal charges.
“What happens if we don’t do this stuff? » Molitor told the court. “He didn’t say, ‘Shoot someone,’ that would have been a definite no. He didn’t say, ‘Blow something up’ – that would have been a definite no. He said, ‘Take a video “. ‘I took a video.”
Michael Null refused to testify.
The men were linked to the Wolverine Watchmen militia, prosecutors said. They were arrested in October 2020 after a member of the group became an FBI confidential informant once discussions turned to harming law enforcement and public officials, according to prosecutors. Whitmer was unhurt.
Previously, nine militia members were convicted in state or federal court in connection with the alleged plot, while two were acquitted.
Pete Musico, Joseph Morrison and Paul Bellar were convicted by a Jackson County jury of providing material support for a terrorist act, the most serious charge, as well as firearms and membership in gang. They were sentenced to one-year prison terms in December.
Fox and Barry Croft Jr. were convicted of federal conspiracy charges in a retrial last year after a previous trial ended in a hung jury. They both received double-digit sentences.
Kaleb Franks and Ty Garbin pleaded guilty to lesser charges last year and agreed to testify in the federal case against Fox and Croft. Franks was sentenced to four years in prison, while Garbin was sentenced to 30 months.
Brian Higgins and Shawn Fix each pleaded guilty to reduced charges earlier this year in Antrim County and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Both have not yet been sentenced.
A jury found two of the members — Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta — not guilty of federal conspiracy charges during a trial last year.
In a statement released following the verdict, Whitmer’s office said the alleged plot was “the result of violent and divisive rhetoric that is all too common in our country.”
“There must be accountability and consequences for those who commit heinous crimes. Without accountability, extremists will be emboldened,” his office said in the statement.
Editor’s note: The original version of this article misidentified the prosecutor delivering the closing remarks. This was Assistant Attorney General William Rollstin, not James Rossiter.