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No convictions for defendants in Michigan Gov. Whitmer kidnapping trial

Anti-government militia members were charged with hatching a plot against the state's Democratic leader, angry over restrictions she ordered in the early days of the pandemic.
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A federal jury failed to convict four men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whom they despised for the restrictions she ordered early in the pandemic.

The panel in Grand Rapids considered charges against Daniel Harris, 24, Adam Fox, 38, Barry Croft Jr., 46, and Brandon Caserta, 33, all charged with conspiracy. 

All but Caserta are also charged with knowingly conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction against persons or property, in an alleged plot to slow responding police.

Croft and Harris were also charged with possession of an unregistered destructive device. Harris was charged with possession of a semi-automatic assault rifle that wasn't registered to him.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at Kettering University in Flint, Mich on Sept. 15, 2021.Jake May / The Flint Journal via AP file

Harris was found not guilty of all four charges, but jurors could not reach verdicts in charges against Fox and Croft. The judge declared a mistrial in those counts.

Caserta was found not guilty of conspiracy.

"Obviously we're disappointed in the outcome," U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge said outside court on Friday afternoon. “We thought that the jury would convict beyond reasonable doubt based on the evidence we put forward.”

In his brief statement, Birge appeared to say his office will retry on the hung counts.

"We have two defendants that are awaiting trial and we'll get back to work on that," he said before walking away from reporters and taking any additional questions.

Caserta's defense lawyer Mike Hills celebrated his client's acquittal and blamed overly aggressive FBI informants.

“I think what the FBI did is unconscionable," Hills told reporters outside court.  “And I think the jury just sent them a message loud and clear.”

Whitmer's chief of staff,  JoAnne Huls, decried the "normalization of political violence."  

“Today, Michiganders and Americans — especially our children — are living through the normalization of political violence," Huls said in a statement after the verdicts.

"The plot to kidnap and kill a governor may seem like an anomaly. But we must be honest about what it really is: the result of violent, divisive rhetoric that is all too common across our country. There must be accountability and consequences for those who commit heinous crimes. Without accountability, extremists will be emboldened. "

Hills said defendants were engaged in nothing more than “rough talk.”

“We have the freedom to say that. If I don’t like the governor and it’s rough talk, I can do that in our country,” he said. “That’s what’s beautiful about this country. That’s what’s great about it.”

Defense lawyer Chris Gibbons said his client, Fox, had hoped for acquittal here but expects better results in another trial.

“Adam is disappointed that he’s going to be detained a bit longer,” Gibbons said, “but we’re waiting for a second trial and we’ll eventually get where we want to get which is the truth and the justice I think Adam is entitled to.”

Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks had also been arrested as part of the conspiracy before they pleaded guilty and testified in this trial.

The alleged to kidnap Whitmer unraveled in October 2020, when more than a dozen men were arrested on federal and state charges.

They sought to capture Whitmer from her vacation home and take her to Wisconsin where she'd be put on "trial," authorities have said.

The Democratic governor had drawn the ire of far-right activists opposed to her pandemic restrictions that year to curb the spread of Covid.

Armed protesters took to the streets of Lansing, the state capital, during the early days of Whitmer’s coronavirus orders. Then-President Donald Trump famously tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” that April.

This is a developing story, please check back for updates.