Jury Reaches Partial Verdict in Trial of Men Accused of Plot to Kidnap Michigan Governor

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — After deliberating all week, jurors said Friday morning they had returned a verdict on multiple counts in the trial of four men accused of conspiring to kidnap the governor of Michigan, but that they were deadlocked on other charges. The judge told them to continue deliberating to try to reach an agreement on all points.

Friday’s jury note was the first substantial update on the status of deliberations since closing arguments concluded a week ago in one of the most high-profile domestic terrorism cases in decades.

Prosecutors said the men – Brandon Caserta, Barry Croft, Adam Fox and Daniel Harris – wanted to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, from her vacation home in northern Michigan in 2020. Defense attorneys argued there was no firm plan to kidnap the governor and that their clients had been drawn into political conversations moderated by FBI informants and undercover agents.

It was unclear on which of the criminal counts the jurors were deadlocked.

The four men face a kidnapping conspiracy charge which carries a life sentence. Mr. Croft, Mr. Fox and Mr. Harris are also charged with planning to blow up a bridge and are charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. Mr. Croft and Harris are also charged with unlawfully possessing a destructive device, and Mr. Harris is charged with unlawfully possessing a short-barreled shotgun.

Late Thursday, the fourth full day of deliberations, jurors demanded to see an exhibit that was closely related to possession of a destructive device charge. Earlier in the week, they asked about the definition of “weapon,” a word that seemed most relevant to weapon of mass destruction and destructive device charges.

On Friday, Chief Justice Robert J. Jonker encouraged jurors to continue deliberating. But he told them he knew they had already spent days reviewing the evidence and that they should not violate their conscience to reach unanimity.

“I know you’ve been at it for a while,” Judge Jonker of the Federal District Court for Western Michigan told the jury of six men and six women. “It’s not like you come to us in the early hours and say, ‘Oh, we’re giving up. “” He added: “Indulge me, if you will – one more effort.”

During weeks of testimony at the Grand Rapids federal courthouse, prosecutors showed jurors inflammatory social media posts and chat messages from the defendants, and played audio secretly recorded by an FBI informant. A former co-defendant who pleaded guilty testified that he had hoped to trigger a chain of events that would prevent Joseph R. Biden Jr. from being elected president, and possibly foment a civil war.

“That was the whole plan: They wanted to kick this off by kidnapping the governor,” Nils Kessler, a federal prosecutor, said during closing arguments.

The case against the four men was seen by many as a lens of increasingly brazen and violent rhetoric among some far-right groups as well as the threat posed by members of the militia movement. The men charged in Michigan were arrested months before a violent right-wing mob disrupted certification of the January 6, 2021 presidential election, but domestic extremism scholars say openness to political violence and the adoption of the political conspiracy theories alleged in both cases. represented a frightening pattern.

In Biden’s first months in office, federal law enforcement stepped up efforts to counter domestic extremism, and the administration called white supremacists and militias a major national security threat. .

In the Michigan courtroom, testimony focused narrowly on the conversations and training of the men accused of planning to kidnap the governor.

Witness after witness for the prosecution, he recounted regular training sessions during the summer of 2020, called “field training exercises”, during which the members participated in shooting exercises, received a medical training and have practiced navigation techniques. Others described how some members of the group twice went to explore Ms Whitmer’s vacation home in northern Michigan, where prosecutors said they planned to abduct her. (On one such trip, they had the wrong address for the house, so they just drove aimlessly down her street.)

No attack ever took place, no deadline for an abduction was set, testimonies showed, and the details of the alleged plan sometimes differed from witness to witness. FBI informant Dan Chappel said he believed the group planned to kill Ms Whitmer, whose handling of the Covid-19 pandemic had infuriated the men. Ty Garbin, the man who previously pleaded guilty in the case, said he believed the group of men might abandon the governor in a boat in the middle of Lake Michigan. Another man who pleaded guilty, Kaleb Franks, said he had hoped to die in a shootout with the governor’s security service.

“There was no plan to kidnap the governor, and there was no agreement between these four men,” said Joshua Blanchard, a lawyer for Mr Croft, in his closing arguments. He said the government had tried to conjure up a conspiracy using a network of informants and undercover agents, and that ‘without a plan, the snitches had to make it look like’ there was movement towards a plan .