DETROIT — A Michigan militia leader and his son pleaded guilty Thursday to possessing a machine gun, giving prosecutors their only gain in a domestic terror trial that was upended when the judge dismissed charges of plotting war against the government.
Hutaree leader David Stone rocked in a chair at the defense table after pleading guilty and told reporters he was a "stand-up true American patriot" whose anti-government comments and bravado about wanting to kill police were not a call to attack the United States.
He and six militia members were cleared Tuesday of conspiracy charges, which he called a "victory for everyone" who cherishes the First Amendment.
"It's amazing how someone can take a comment out of context and make it to whatever they want it to be," Stone, 51, said.
Gun charges were all that remained for Stone and Joshua Stone, 23, both from Lenawee County, Mich., after U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts said prosecutors in six weeks had failed to present evidence of a specific plan to go to war against law enforcement and federal authorities.
Jurors heard hours of secretly recorded conversations between David Stone and an FBI informant and agent. He talked about killing police, building bombs and engaging an international coalition of freedom-hating law enforcers dubbed the "brotherhood."
"The government's case is built largely of circumstantial evidence," the judge said Tuesday. "While this evidence could certainly lead a rational fact-finder to conclude that 'something fishy' was going on, it does not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendants reached a concrete agreement to forcibly oppose the United States government."Story: FBI agent: Midwest militia group had 'kill' list
A juror, Rickey Randall, 58, said Roberts made the right call.
"I heard talk, talk, talk, but no action," Randall said. "I was shocked by their effort to bring the defendants to trial. ... Do you think a group that small can go up against the mighty U.S. government?"
In her first remarks since most of the case was gutted, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said she disagreed with the judge but conceded that "reasonable minds can disagree on where legal lines are drawn."
"The court's order dismissing the more serious charges in this case was disappointing, but it does not shake our commitment to dismantling groups who would harm our citizens and law enforcement officers, and these efforts will continue," McQuade said in a statement.
David Stone was released on bond after two years in custody. He could face another year in prison when he's sentenced for the gun crime, but said he hoped the judge will consider the past two years as enough punishment. Joshua Stone, too, has been jailed for two years and could face more time behind bars.
The elder Stone said the outcome of the trial likely will stir anxieties about the government among other militias.
"Now they know their paranoia is true," he said, referring to the FBI's tactics.
David Stone's wife, Tina Stone, was among the militia members cleared of all charges. She told The Associated Press that her husband's Hutaree days are over, although she said the group was never the violent threat that the government had claimed.
"They couldn't overthrow F Troop," Tina Stone said, referring to a 1960s TV satire about soldiers in the Old West after the Civil War.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.