Jury acquits two men in Michigan governor kidnapping case, blocks two others


April 8 (Reuters) – A federal jury on Friday acquitted two men of conspiring to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 and the judge hearing the case declared a mistrial of two other men after the jurors could not decide on them.

The men were charged in a conspiracy, prosecutors say, inspired by their fierce opposition to pandemic-related restrictions imposed by Whitmer’s office, and faced charges including conspiracy to kidnap and use a weapon of mass destruction.

The prosecution, which said the men belonged to self-proclaimed militias, accused them of planning to break into Whitmer’s vacation home, drive her away and put her on “trial” for treason.

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The kidnapping, the defendants hoped, would force an end to Whitmer’s pandemic terms, while pushing the country – highly polarized ahead of the 2020 election – into a second American Civil War, the prosecution said.

But the prosecution failed to convince jurors at the federal courthouse in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The 12-member panel found Brandon Caserta and Daniel Harris not guilty of any charges. The jury was unable to agree on a verdict for Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr.

The jury’s decision was a setback for federal prosecutors in one of the most high-profile cases in years involving domestic terrorism and militia charges.

“Obviously we are disappointed with the outcome,” Andrew Birge, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, told reporters outside the courthouse.

Birge did not directly respond to questions about whether he intended to try Fox and Croft again. But he hinted in a written statement that he would, saying: “Two defendants are now awaiting retrial and, for this reason, we have no further statement at this time.”

Mike Hills, a Caserta defense attorney, told Reuters in a phone call that the plot to kidnap the governor “was an FBI fabrication.”

“They (the FBI) ​​created the appearance of a conspiracy that never existed,” Hills said.

He added that Caserta had been dragged into the case “by the predatory conduct of the FBI” as they sought to lend credibility to the case by trapping more people in it. The FBI did not respond to an emailed request for comment. Defense attorneys for the other defendants did not respond to requests for comment.

At trial, the defense argued that the government used FBI informants and undercover agents to encourage online discussions of the alleged conspiracy, hoping to frame the defendants in alleged crimes because of their political views, they said.

The case is one of the most high-profile lawsuits against alleged members of right-wing organizations that have emerged in the years since former President Donald Trump was elected in 2016. It also highlights highlights the extent to which the pandemic and government efforts to control it have become a corner issue in American politics.

The acquittals come despite key testimony from Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, two others charged with the alleged conspiracy before reaching plea deals with prosecutors. Garbin is currently serving a six-year sentence, while Franks awaits sentencing.

The four on trial are among 13 men who were arrested in October 2020 and charged with state or federal crimes in the alleged kidnapping conspiracy. Seven of them face charges in state court.

The FBI said it began tracking the group’s movements after seeing online chats that included posts about the violent overthrow of some state governments.

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Additional reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Mark Porter, Howard Goller and Aurora Ellis

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