Jury deliberations in the case over an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) are set to begin on Monday after nearly a month of testimony.
The trials of Brandon Caserta, Barry Croft Jr., Adam Fox, and Daniel Harris began on March 8. The four men were arrested in October 2020 after allegedly hatching a plot to kidnap Whitmer over her COVID-19 lockdown policies. Prosecutors argued that the men, along with two others who have pleaded guilty to the charges, conspired to kidnap Whitmer and took concrete steps toward achieving their goal.
Closing arguments for both sides wrapped up on Friday. Prosecutors said that the men all agreed to the plot and acted to carry it out, demonstrating that the defendants saw the alleged plot as more than just “talk.” Prosecutors said that defendants gave verbal assent to the plot, cased the governor’s cottage in northern Michigan multiple times, formulated the beginnings of a plan, and attempted to purchase explosives in furtherance of the plan.
“In America, there’s a lot of things you can do. You can criticize the government publicly, absolutely,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler told jurors Friday. “If you don’t like the government’s policies, you can protest them. If you don’t like elected leaders, you can vote them out at the ballot box. What you can’t do is kidnap them, kill them, or blow them up.”
“Barry Croft drove across the country four times to plan this. Adam Fox came up [to Whitmer’s cottage] twice. It wasn’t just protected speech,” Kessler told the jury, adding the group took efforts to conceal their plan. “They weren’t going to protests. They were specifically keeping a low profile so that nobody would know what they were up to.”
Defense attorneys argues that their clients were targeted by the FBI and manipulated by agents and informants into making statements and taking actions they never would have done on their own.
Much of the blame the defendants placed on an FBI informant they called “Big Dan,” who joined the militia group Wolverine Watchmen in March 2020 and was instrumental in alerting the FBI to the group. Federal investigators began investigating the militia group, which Caserta and Harris came to be members of, after “Big Dan” Chappel reported alleged threats members of the group made against law enforcement.
Harris was the only one of the defendants to take the stand. During an outburst in his testimony, Harris called Chappel a “b****.” Harris’ attorney Julia Kelly argued that Harris, who was a veteran like Chappel, had looked up to the older man and felt betrayed by him.
Defense attorneys also targeted the testimonies of Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, two members of the alleged plot who pleaded guilty instead of taking the case to trial.
“I think we tried to make it very clear that the snitches Garbin and Franks were inconsistent,” Caserta’s defense attorney Mike Hills told reporters after closing arguments wrapped up Friday. “They were actually lying — it was more than inconsistent. They were lying, and they were doing so for time, which is the most precious thing you can have. I’m hoping it impacted the jury.”
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