Trial underway for 4 men charged in Michigan Governor Whitmer’s kidnapping plot

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Were they gullible rude men under the spell of undercover agents? Or a cast of thugs seething with enough anger to want to kidnap the governor of Michigan?

Jury selection begins Tuesday in the trial of four men accused of conspiring to snatch Governor Gretchen Whitmer in a stunning ploy to retaliate against her stay-at-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 about his administration’s response to COVID-19. His critics, meanwhile, regularly demonstrated at the Michigan Capitol, clogging the streets around the state house and legally carrying semi-automatic rifles into the building.

LOOK: Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on handling the COVID-19 crisis

During that turbulent time, Adam Fox, Brandon Caserta, Barry Croft Jr. and Daniel Harris plotted to snatch Whitmer, prosecutors say. They are accused of taking critical actions over several months, including secret messages, gun drills in the woods and a night drive through northern Michigan to scout his 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 arrest 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 expected.

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

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

Garbin and Franks insist that no one in the group acted due to undue influence from undercover agents or informants.

“It’s not the end of the case for the defense, but it’s a big hurdle to overcome,” John Smietanka, a former federal prosecutor, said of the pair’s cooperation. “It will depend on the credibility of the witnesses and the effect of any extrinsic evidence, such as the tapes.”

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

LOOK: News Wrap: Three more men to stand trial for Whitmer kidnapping plot

Prior to trial, defense attorneys reviewed the case, particularly the “staggering use” of informants. They deny any conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer and have reported an entrapment defense.

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

Defense attorney Christopher Gibbons said Fox did not want to kidnap Whitmer, despite making “numerous inflammatory remarks” about the governor and what he considered to be unconstitutional acts.

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

Assistant US Attorney Nils Kessler said informants were paid to gather information, not to incite crimes.

“The things they recorded were the defendants’ own words. This is what makes the defendants guilty,” Kessler told a judge on Friday.

A successful entrapment defense requires evidence that the government instigated someone to commit a crime they otherwise would not be inclined to commit, Smietanka said.

Whitmer, who is seeking re-election this year, rarely speaks publicly about the case and is not 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 “reassuring” anti-government extremists with his rhetoric.

“The conspiracies and threats against me, however disturbing, could not deter me from doing all 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, state court authorities are prosecuting eight men accused of aiding the group.


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