GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Two of four men were acquitted on Friday in a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020, motivated by fury over the strict COVID-19 restrictions imposed by Democrats at the start of the pandemic.
Jury verdicts against Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta were read in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the case presided over by U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker. Jurors said they could not agree again on the Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr. verdicts. Prosecutors described Fox as a ringleader of an anti-government group.
Fox, Croft and Harris faced additional charges. The two most serious counts, conspiracy to kidnap and conspiracy to use explosives, both carry a life sentence.
Defense attorneys described their clients as gullible weekend warriors prone to big wild arguments, who were often stoned. They said undercover FBI agents and informants tricked and cajoled the men into agreeing to a plot.
To counter this entrapment allegation, prosecutors presented evidence that the men had discussed Whitmer’s abduction before the FBI sting began. They went well beyond discussions, including exploring Whitmer’s summer home and testing explosives, prosecutors told jurors.
Croft is from Delaware while the others are from Michigan.
Earlier Friday, U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker acknowledged the wrestling deliberations. Decisions of conviction or acquittal must be taken unanimously.
“I know it’s hard. We all know it’s tough,” Jonker told the jury.
There were 10 charges in the case: one against Brandon Caserta, two against Adam Fox, three against Barry Croft Jr. and four against Daniel Harris. The men all faced the primary charge of a kidnapping plot; the other counts are linked to explosives and a firearm.
“It is important to achieve unanimity if you can. … If you just can’t see it, then that’s what we ultimately need to hear as the final answer,” Jonker said.
Proceedings resumed earlier on Friday with a court worker handing over a large plastic bag containing pennies, known as Exhibit 291. The pennies were requested before jurors went home on Thursday.
Coins stuck to commercial-grade fireworks were intended to act like 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 his April 1 closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler said Croft wanted to test the explosive as a possible weapon to use against Whitmer’s security team. He quoted him as saying the pennies would be so hot they could stab your skin.
The trial has now spanned 20 days since March 8, including jury selection, evidence, closing arguments and jury deliberations.
Prosecutors offered testimony from undercover agents, a key informant and two men who pleaded guilty to the conspiracy. Jurors also read and heard secretly taped conversations, violent social media posts and chat messages.
Prosecutors said the group was steeped in anti-government extremism and angry at Whitmer’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Defense attorneys, however, said any scheme was the creation of government agents who were embedded in the group and manipulated the men.
Croft is from Bear, Delaware, while the others are from Michigan.
Whitmer, a Democrat, rarely speaks publicly about the plot, although she did refer to “surprises” during her tenure that appeared to be “something out of fiction” when she sought re-election on March 17.
She blamed former President Donald Trump for fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn right-wing extremists like those charged in the case.
Find full AP coverage of the Whitmer Kidnap Plot Trial at: https://apnews.com/hub/whitmer-kidnap-plot-trial
White reported from Detroit.