Gretchen Whitmer Kidnapping trial: two suspects acquitted in kidnapping conspiracy
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (FOX 2) - A federal jury in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has found two suspects in the plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer not guilty and a mistrial has been declared for the other two suspects after the jury could not reach a verdict.
The jury reached the verdict around 2 p.m. on Friday for Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta of not guilty on all charges. Both been had been charged with kidnapping conspiracy while Harris was also charged with multiple crimes.
Fox, Croft, and Harris faced additional charges. The two most serious charges, kidnapping conspiracy and conspiracy to use explosives, both carry potential life sentences. The jury acquitted both Harris and Caserta on all charges but could not return a verdict for Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr.
Following the verdict, U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge spoke briefly, expressing disappointment in the verdict.
"Obviously we’re disappointed with the outcome," Birge said. "We still believe in the jury system."
Defense attorneys portrayed their clients as credulous weekend warriors prone to big, wild talk, who were often stoned. They said FBI undercover agents and informants tricked and cajoled the men into agreeing to a conspiracy.
Fox's attorney, Christopher Gibbins said they'll be ready for a second trial on the same charges, if that's what the U.S. Prosecutor decides to do.
"We’re ready to go," Gibbins said. "Adam is disappointed that he’s going to be detained a bit longer, but we’re waiting for a second trial, and we’ll eventually get what we want again out of this, which is the truth and the justice. I expected something to happen and something did happen, kind of, for my client"
To counter that entrapment claim, prosecutors entered evidence that the men discussed abducting Whitmer before the FBI sting began. They went way beyond talk, including scouting Whitmer's summer home and testing explosives, prosecutors told jurors.
The four men were on trial in federal court for kidnapping conspiracy but Harris, Fox, and Croft were all facing additional charges.
Croft and Harris were charged with possession of an unregistered destructive device, which the prosecution has said was a firework wrapped with pennies that would serve as shrapnel.
Lastly, Harris was charged with possession of a semiautomatic assault rifle with a barrel less than 16 inches long that wasn't registered to him.
Caserta is the only one of the four on trial in federal court who is not facing more charges.
Six men were initially charged with federal crimes but Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks both pleaded guilty before trial.
How much time could the suspects have received?
The kidnapping conspiracy charge and the conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction each carried a maximum life sentence.
The maximum sentence for possession of an unregistered destructive device is 10 years. The semiautomatic rifle charge was a three year maximum.
Whitmer kidnapping plot thwarted
A total of 14 men were ultimately arrested in October 2020 but most were charged with state crimes and two men, Garbin and Franks, later pleaded guilty to federal charges.
According to the federal prosecutors, Fox allegedly proposed the kidnapping of Whitmer on Aug. 23, 2020, during a meeting with Harris and Caserta. Another claim from the federal government is that the men scrutinized each other's IDs in a bid to ensure no one was an undercover agent.
MORE: Ty Garbin, suspect in Whitmer kidnap plot, agrees to guilty plea and will 'fully cooperate'
Another is that Fox, Croft, Harris and Caserta held field-training exercises in September 2020, practicing tactics for fighting Whitmer's security detail.
The indictment attributes another overt act on Oct. 7, 2020, to Caserta, alleging he instructed co-conspirators that, if they encountered police, they should give the officers one chance to leave, then kill them.
Alleged overt acts on the weapons of mass destruction charge include that Harris boasted on May 1, 2020, that he was a Marine Corps veteran who "can make things go boom if you give me what I need."
What was required for the jury to convict the suspects?
The defendants never achieved their purported goal of kidnapping Whitmer. Unbeknownst to them, the FBI had infiltrated their group and was closely monitoring them. They were arrested in October 2020.
Defense attorneys portrayed their clients as weekend warriors prone to big, wild talk, who were often stoned. To prove it was deadly serious, prosecutors entered evidence showing the defendants took specific steps, referred to as "overt acts," toward implementing their plans.
MORE: Man who pleaded guilty in Whitmer kidnapping plot says 'no question' of plan to abduct governor
Jury instructions explained that convictions on the kidnapping and weapons conspiracy charges required evidence that each defendant committed at least one of the long list of overt acts in the indictment.
Proof that a defendant simply knew about the conspiracy or associated with members of the conspiracy isn't enough. The acts in the previous section had to be proven in order to get a conviction.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.