News from Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer today: 2 found not guilty, others declared a mistrial in kidnapping conspiracy trial

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WLS) — The government rarely loses criminal trials. It happened on Friday.

A major Michigan domestic terrorism prosecution that involved an alleged plot to kidnap and kill Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ended without a conviction. A jury in Grand Rapids spent five days deliberating, but despite hours of taped evidence, testimony from undercover informants, surveillance by accused militiamen, a ready arsenal of guns, bombs and ammunition, and even hand-drawn plans for the alleged conspiracy, the United States Department of Justice failed.

Four men, who prosecutors said were part of an amateur commando that was going to attack Whitmer’s vacation home because of his strict COVID-19 policies, won a major victory in federal court.

One of them, Daniel Harris, 24, was acquitted of all charges against him and was due Friday afternoon. Harris – perhaps not coincidentally – was the only defendant to testify on his own behalf at the trial.

RELATED: Jury assesses fate of 4 men charged with conspiracy to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer

The jury found a second defendant, Brandon Caserta, 33, not guilty of the only charge he faced: conspiracy to kidnap.

Caserta is due to join Harris on Friday walking free from police custody. They had been held in jail for months as the trial ramped up.

There was a mistrial for the other two defendants by Grand Rapids District Court Judge Robert Jonker following a jury statement that they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. on charges against Adam Fox, 38, of Michigan, and Barry Croft, 46, of Delaware.

The government quickly announced Friday afternoon that it would try Fox and Croft again, who FBI agents believe were the main players behind the plot to get Whitmer.

Prosecutors said they were “disappointed” by the outcome of a case that had attracted worldwide attention, mainly due to the outrageous nature of the allegations. Accused members of a Michigan militia group, the “Wolverine Watchmen”, had discussed putting Whitmer and other politicians on “public trial” before executing them on live television. Another possible m/o according to the FBI was that the men would abandon Whitmer in a boat in the middle of Lake Michigan.

The defense argued that there was no serious conspiracy afoot and that it was the boasting of men who were regularly and frequently under the influence of alcohol and marijuana.

The FBI had planted several agents within an organization that the agents believed was extremely serious about eliminating Governor Whitmer. An alleged plan to blow up a bridge near the Whitmer family’s summer home in northern Michigan and the killings of its security guards never happened despite what authorities called planning and equipment developed in
hand. No one was injured or killed.

RELATED: New Motive Revealed in Militia Plot to Kidnap and Assassinate Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer

As the ABC7 I-Team reported early in the investigation, part of the government’s evidence against the men included videos of combat assault training with live ammunition at a camp in Wisconsin. More than a dozen men were involved in the plot, according to investigators. Several have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with prosecutors. Other defendants face charges from the State of Michigan and have not yet been tried.

The jury began deliberating on Monday after a 14-day trial, during which it heard from 34 witnesses. Six men and six women were on the jury. It is highly unusual for the government to take cases to court and not win, at least on some counts. The two defendants who were acquitted cannot be retried under the Constitution. The other two may have a streamlined case, after prosecutors consider what worked and what didn’t and why jurors might have struggled to reach unanimous verdicts.

After the jury returned and the result was known, Governor Whitmer, a Michigan Democrat, released a written statement.

“Today, the people of Michigan and Americans, especially our children, are experiencing the normalization of political violence. The plot to kidnap and kill a governor may seem like an anomaly. But we need to be honest about what it really is: the result of violent acts, a divisive rhetoric that is all too common in our country. There must be accountability and consequences for those who commit heinous crimes. Without accountability, extremists will be emboldened .

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