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The Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping plot jury has acquitted Brandon Caserta and Daniel Harris each on a charge of conspiracy to kidnap the governor of Michigan. Harris was also cleared on several other charges, including conspiracy to use a “weapon of mass destruction.” Deliberations ended in a mistrial for defendants Adam Fox and Barry Croft on the conspiracy charge.
The jury in the trial over an alleged plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) told the court after over four days of deliberating that they are split over some of the charges.
Jurors told Judge Robert Jonker that they had arrived at a partial verdict, agreeing on some counts but remaining split on others. Deliberations began on Monday morning.
Earlier in the day, after hearing from the jury, Jonker twice instructed them to return to deliberations and try to reach an unanimous decision on the deadlocked charges. The jury was apparently not able to resolve all of its disagreements.
The trial, which began in early March, followed the arrest of Brandon Caserta, Barry Croft, Adam Fox, and Daniel Harris. The FBI had investigated them and a number of other militiamen, most in the Michigan-based group the Wolverine Watchmen, for about seven months for violent threats made against law enforcement.
Caserta, Croft, Fox, and Harris pleaded not guilty, and during the trial, their defense attorneys accused two other men, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, both of whom pleaded guilty to conspiracy, of lying.
“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 last week. “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.”
The defendants’ attorneys argued that their clients were, first, not guilty of the crime alleged and, second, to the extent that a conspiracy did exist, the FBI entrapped their clients and illegally pushed forward a plot that otherwise would never have amounted to anything more than strong language.
Federal prosecutors argued the opposite. The government presented audio clips cut from hundreds of hours-worth of recordings taken by FBI agents and informants throughout the investigation. Prosecutors brought up messages and social media posts to argue that the defendants were part of a violent group that, if given a chance, would have carried out a plot to kidnap and potentially execute the governor.
The prosecutors said the defendants took concrete steps to carry out that plan, holding meetings and trainings across several states, and taking two trips to scope out the governor’s vacation home in Elk Rapids, Michigan.
Closing arguments in the case wrapped up last week on Friday.
“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. “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.”