Jurors on Friday freed two of the four defendants in the Michigan militia kidnapping-plot trial, but after a week of deliberations remained hung on the charges against the two men accused of being ringleaders in the conspiracy to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer. A mistrial was declared in the case of the latter two—Adam Fox, 37, of Grand Rapids; Barry Croft, 44, of Bear, Delaware—and they will remain in custody.
However, the jury found both Daniel Harris, 23, of Lake Orion, and Brandon Caserta, 32, of Canton, Michigan, not guilty on all charges, and they were released. The verdicts were announced after jurors told the judge that morning they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on all counts, and he had sent them back to attempt one last time to reach finality.
"After using the suggestions of the court, we're still unable to reach a unanimous decision on several counts," a note from the jury handed to U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker three hours later said.
"On a case that has a lot of evidence ... It is not unusual for a jury to come back and say, 'Hey, we tried, but we just can't get there at everything,'" Jonker had said earlier. "I know you've been at it a while ... I'm not quite ready to say, 'That's the best we can do.'"
"Go back," the judge said, "and make another effort."
Jonker emphasized: "You have to vote your own conscience at the end of the day. ... See if anything moves you on a locked decision."
JoAnne Huls, Whitmer’s chief of staff, issued a statement voicing her dismay.
“Today, Michiganders and Americans—especially our children—are living through the normalization of political violence. The plot to kidnap and kill a governor may seem like an anomaly. But we must be honest about what it really is: the result of violent, divisive rhetoric that is all too common across our country. There must be accountability and consequences for those who commit heinous crimes. Without accountability, extremists will be emboldened.”
Jurors had listened to three weeks of testimony, the majority coming from the prosecution. One of the militiamen wanted to spread Whitmer out on a table, hogtied and displayed while they took pictures of themselves. Another worked on detonating an improvised explosive device in his yard while his 10-year-old daughter offered him a Doritos chip. The paramilitary training, the reconnaissance at Whitmer’s home, the weapons collections—it was all part of a plan to spark a nationwide “Boogaloo” civil war, the men believed. "We wanted to be the first to kick it off," a key witness testified.
The testimonial evidence in the trial of the four men charged with plotting to kidnap and kill Whitmer in its first was both riveting and disturbing. All of the cooperating witnesses attested that none of the FBI’s multiple informants at work on the case induced anyone to commit the crimes, though that appears not to have held water with the jury.
Ty Garbin, a 26-year-old from Hartland Township and onetime member of the group (which called themselves the Wolverine Watchmen) was the prosecution’s primary witness this week. Garbin, who entered a guilty plea last year as part of a cooperation agreement, told the jury that no one else convinced him or anyone else in the group to join the kidnapping plot.
The defendants leaned heavily on claims that the government entrapped them into the plot to abduct Whitmer from her summer home and put her on “trial.”
A profile of the jury by the Detroit Free Press suggests that its composition was already problematic, featuring a number of people likely to sympathize with the “Patriots.”
- A man who owns an AR-15 rifle, which he described as a former military weapon that sits in his closet most of the time. He works third shift in a factory of some sort, and works out at a gym. He noted his rifle is now a semi-automatic.
- A man who works as a CT scan technologist who expressed concerns with missing work, but said he could handle the issues of the trial.
- A man who works at a molding and plastics plant, hunts and owns multiple guns, including an assault rifle because, he said, "I like the style of it."
- A grandmother of four who said that the Whitmer kidnap case was discussed in their home, but said she could put her husband "on mute" if she had to. She said they don't own any guns, "but I don't have problems with guns at all." She said she has political leanings, without elaborating, but can put them aside.
- A woman who works as an adult foster care director said she doesn't think the governor "takes into account everything all the time."
On Thursday, the jury asked to see purported bomb evidence involving pennies that had been attached to an explosive as shrapnel. Before entering the deliberation room on Friday, jurors were handed an evidence bag, filled with the pennies they inquired about.
The pennies had come up during the testimony of an FBI witness, who said they were found in a "blast zone" at Garbin's property in Luther. The witness testified the pennies were found in a 2- to 3-foot radius, along with a mortar launcher, staples, rubber bands, and markings, which, he said, indicated a detonation took place.
The trial’s outcome likely will have broad ramifications for how federal authorities tackle the rising tide of right-wing domestic terrorism, as well as ongoing prosecution of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrectionists. It likely is also being celebrated by far-right extremists and would-be domestic terrorists.
Published with permission from Daily Kos.