GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — A lawyer for one of the men charged with plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 said Wednesday he was a near-homeless, pot-smoking “misfit” who was influenced by an FBI informant whom he met at a protest.
Defense attorney Christopher Gibbons refuted a prosecutor’s claim that Adam Fox was a mastermind of the 2020 plot against the Democratic governor.
“Adam Fox did not commit a crime in this case,” Gibbons said during opening statements in a federal courtroom in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Four men face trial: Fox, Brandon Caserta, Barry Croft Jr. and Daniel Harris. Prosecutors say the men came up with the plan to snatch Whitmer in 2020 because they were angry about pandemic restrictions she imposed. They’re accused of taking critical steps over several months, including secret messaging, gun drills in the woods and a night drive to northern Michigan to scout her second home and figure out how to blow up a bridge.
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A prosecutor told jurors Wednesday that the four men charged with plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 recruited a militia and planned to break into the Democrat’s home, tie her up and take her away.
The men also planned to blow up a bridge to stop police from quickly responding, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Roth said during opening statements in a federal courtroom in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He told jurors they would see social media posts and hear secretly recorded conversations full of angry, vulgar and sexist language about violence and plans to take down a “tyrant.”
Four men are on trial: Adam Fox, Brandon Caserta, Barry Croft Jr. and Daniel Harris. Prosecutors say the men came up with the plan to snatch Whitmer because they were angry about restrictions she put in place early in the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re accused of taking critical steps over several months, including secret messaging, gun drills in the woods and a night drive to northern Michigan to scout her second home and figure out how to blow up a bridge.
In his opening statement, Roth described Fox and Croft as masterminds of the plot. He said the four wanted to create a “war zone here in Michigan,” and urged jurors to set aside the defendants’ political views and their desire for a “civil war,” and Whitmer’s job or their thoughts about her.
“What you have is that defendants agreed, planned, trained and were ready to break into a woman’s home as she slept with her family in the middle of the night and with violence and at gunpoint they would tie her up and take her from that home,” Roth said. “And to accomplish that they would shoot, blow up and kill anybody who got in their way.”
Defense attorneys say the men deny any conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer. They have signaled an entrapment defense, criticizing the government’s use of undercover FBI agents and confidential informants. They are scheduled to deliver opening statements later Wednesday.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker told potential jurors: “This isn’t your average criminal case” because of the extraordinary allegations of violence planned against an elected official.
Eleven women and seven men were selected to serve as jurors, with 12 who will decide the case and six alternates, though the court did not make clear Tuesday which jurors are alternates. Before they left the courtroom, Jonker told the jury to stay off social media and not discuss the case with family.
Conference tables along one wall of the wood-paneled courtroom, crowded with different teams of defense lawyers and aides, are one indication of the complexity of the case jurors must sit through for then next few weeks. The strategies of the different defense teams are not perfectly coordinated, so defense lawyers could often make different objections or motions, or ask questions during cross-examination seeking to score different points with jurors.
In 2020, Whitmer was trading taunts with then-President Donald Trump over his administration’s response to COVID-19. Her critics, meanwhile, were regularly protesting at the Michigan Capitol, clogging streets around the statehouse and legally carrying semi-automatic rifles into the building.
The FBI said it thwarted the kidnapping plot with the arrests 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 planned.
Garbin said Fox, the alleged ringleader, wanted the men to chip in for a $4,000 explosive large enough to destroy a bridge near Whitmer’s home and distract police during a kidnapping.
Garbin and Franks insist no one in the group acted because of excessive influence by agents or undercover informants.
Whitmer, who is seeking reelection this year, rarely talks publicly about the case and isn’t expected to attend the trial. She has blamed Trump for stoking mistrust and fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn hate groups and right-wing extremists like those charged in the plot. She has said he was also complicit in the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
Separately, authorities in state court are prosecuting eight men who are accused of aiding the group.
White reported from Detroit and Burnett reported from Chicago. Reporter John Flesher contributed from Traverse City, Michigan.
Find AP’s full coverage of the Whitmer kidnap plot trial at: https://apnews.com/hub/whitmer-kidnap-plot-trial
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