2 men face new trial over scheme to kidnap Michigan governor
Two men accused of crafting a plan to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 and spark a nationwide insurgency face a second trial this week, months after a jury was unable to deliver a verdict on the two while announcing two others. People are innocent.
The April results dealt a blow to federal prosecutors, who began to show that the extremists were committed to snatching Whitmer and causing chaos as the election between Joe Biden and then-President Donald Trump loomed.
The trials of Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr meant secretly recorded conversations, text messages and chilling social media posts were once again made public. It also comes amid intense news coverage of a U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, unrest in the Capitol by Trump supporters.
Jurors will see how secretive FBI agents and informants infiltrated the Michigan organization. In response, defense attorneys will again argue that Fox and Croft are protected by the First Amendment in expressing malicious opinions about the government and have been bogged down every step of the way.
“The stakes are higher because the government has doubled down,” Matthew Schneider, a former U.S. attorney in Detroit, said of the second trial. “They’re going to try it all again, and the government’s view is, ‘We’re going to win.'”
Also in the background: Whitmer’s reelection campaign is heating up. Jury selection will begin Tuesday in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“It was like deja vu,” said U.S. District Judge Robert Juncker.
Fox, who lives in a vacuum shop in the Grand Rapids area, and Croft, a truck driver from Bell, Delaware, wanted to target Whitmer and other public officials in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government claims.
A handcrafted “shooting house” was built for weekend gun drills. Evidence suggests that Croft, Fox and the undercover agent travelled overnight to northern Michigan to inspect Whitmer’s second home and discuss placing explosives under the bridge. The two men who pleaded guilty will again testify for prosecutors.
“I’m going to get hit very soon,” Croft was heard saying at a meeting of antigovernment activists in Ohio in June 2020. “I’m going to terrorize people. Right people. Those who have been terrorizing my people.”
Fox and Croft were charged with conspiracy. The first trial ended in failure when the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict against them. However, the jury acquitted Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta.
Caserta’s lawyer Michael Hills said the second trial would be “shorter and more focused” with two people instead of four.
“Second defenses are always tough on defense,” Hills said. “They got everything against them, the power of the government.”
The judge said he would not refer to the outcome of the first trial when selecting a jury. But if would-be jurors say they know it, Jonker asks if that affects their ability to be fair and impartial.
“The jury really needs to understand that its decision needs to be based on the evidence in this case and not what has happened in other cases,” Jonker told the lawyers.
Whitmer, a Democrat, has rarely spoken publicly after the first trial, but opened up to The Washington Post in a recent interview.
“Does anyone think these kidnappers want to keep me or redeem me?” Whitmer said. “No. They’re going to try me and then execute me. It’s an assassination plot, but nobody talks about it that way. Even the way people talk about it belies its seriousness.”
White reported from Detroit. Joey Cappelletti of Lansing, Michigan, a member of the AP/US State Capitol Journalism Initiative, contributed to this story.
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Find The Associated Press’ full coverage of the Whitmer kidnap plot trial at: https://apnews.com/hub/whitmer-kidnap-plot-trial