GRAND RAPIDS — In an overhaul for the government, a federal jury on Tuesday convicted two men charged with plotting to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer out of anger at his handling of the pandemic, ending a dramatic lawsuit that highlighted the growth of violent extremism in America.
The jury deliberated for approximately eight hours over two days before returning guilty verdicts to Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr., who were found guilty on all counts and face life in prison for crimes which, according to them, were hatched by the FBI.
The verdicts drew praise from many in law enforcement and the legal community, particularly Whitmer, who prosecutors said was a target of extremists who wanted to settle their differences through violence.
The guilty verdicts came on Whitmer’s birthday.
Whitmer: “Disturbing extension of radicalized domestic terrorism”
“Today’s verdicts prove that violence and threats have no place in our politics and those who seek to divide us will be held accountable. They won’t succeed,” Whitmer said in a statement, adding:
“But we also need to look closely at the status of our policy. Conspiracies against officials and threats against the FBI are a disturbing extension of the radicalized domestic terrorism simmering in our country, threatening the very foundation of our republic,” Whitmer said. “I can’t – I don’t want to – let extremists get in the way of the work we do. They will never break my unshakeable faith in the goodness and decency of our people.
Fox and Croft, who will later be sentenced, were convicted of conspiracy to kidnap and conspiracy to possess weapons of mass destruction. Croft was convicted of an additional weapons charge.
The men were tried by a second jury, more diverse than in the first trial, which ended in no conviction from the government. Two men were acquitted in that trial and the jury deadlocked on the charges against Fox and Croft Jr., triggering a mistrial that prompted the government to try again.
The landmark case ends with four men in jail and two others on the loose, two years after the FBI arrested the six on federal charges they plotted to kidnap the governor from her vacation home out of anger over her restraining orders. lockdown and her mask warrants, and hit a bridge near her home to slow down law enforcement. Five defendants were arrested in an FBI sting outside a warehouse in Ypsilanti, where prosecutors said the men believed they were going to make a deposit on explosives, pick up free military equipment and then go head to Buffalo Wild Wings for free beer and chicken. But it was all a ruse.
Croft was arrested at a gas station in New Jersey. Eight other people face state fees in the case.
“This verdict imposes a significant responsibility on the perpetrators of violence against public officials,” said former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, Barbara McQuade. “Bringing these plotters to justice will make others think twice before engaging in similar conduct in the future.”
McQuade applauded federal prosecutors in Grand Rapids for “having the courage” to try the case again, saying:
“It would have been easy for them to just move on to the next case to avoid the possible embarrassment of a second mistrial or acquittal,” McQuade said. “But instead they fulfilled their duty to protect the public.”
Defence: likely appeal
Neither Fox nor Croft had a noticeable reaction as U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker read the verdicts, staring forward and occasionally leaning in to speak to their attorneys. Fox’s mother, who attended the retrial every day, shook her head as Jonker read the verdict.
The defense has long argued that this was a case of entrapment, that the defendants were just tough-talking morons talking about their government, and that rogue FBI agents and informants had them. trapped.
Lawyers for Fox and Croft expressed disappointment with the verdict, both lamenting apparent issues with some members of the jury, which was chosen in one day, and included a juror who was investigated for alleged misconduct on the second day of the trial.
This juror allegedly told his colleagues that his decision was made from the start and that he was delighted to serve on the jury. Jonker handled the matter privately in his cabinet, allowing neither the prosecution nor the defense to be part of the proceedings.
“I think justice should be served in public,” Croft’s attorney Joshua Blanchard said as he left the courthouse.
Blanchard had filed a case relating to the potentially problematic juror and asked the judge to unseal it after the verdict – but Jonker said that would be explored in the future.
“(We) will explore all avenues ‘of any potential appeal,'” said Fox attorney Christopher Gibbons, who portrayed FBI agents as overzealous operators who used paid informants to manipulate his client.
When asked if he had focused too much on the entrapment allegations, Gibbons replied, “Absolutely not…I think the record speaks for itself.”
The FBI proved it right
The prosecution, however, argued that the men did much more than talk – they took steps to carry out their plan, including breaking up Whitmer’s vacation home twice, building explosives, arranging secret meetings and practicing break-in drills at shooting houses. they built that mimicked his cottage.
In the end, the jury sided with the government, handing a major victory not only to prosecutors, but also to the FBI, whose reputations were besmirched in both trials, with the defense repeatedly blowing the agents and informants, calling them liars and manipulators with excessive powers.
“The defendants in this case believed their anti-government views justified the violence. Today’s verdict is a clear example that they got that assessment wrong,” said Special Agent in Charge David Porter, who oversees the FBI office in Grand Rapids.
As the attorneys left the room, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Andrew Birge shook hands with Assistant District Attorney Nils Kesslers. Kessler, the lead prosecutor in both trials, urged the jury before deliberating to remember one thing: that four men stormed Whitmer’s house in the middle of the night with guns and planned to build a bomb.
Kessler repeatedly emphasized this point when closing what experts believed to be the strongest evidence against the defendants: the surveillance trips, which jurors got to see for themselves. Prosecutors released video of the men walking past Whitmer’s cottage on a rainy night, and audio recordings captured Fox excitedly declaring, “That’s it. Man, that’s it. Turn around.”
The jury spent two weeks listening to testimony from FBI agents, informants and wiretaps from the defendants themselves, in which they discussed the kidnapping of “that tyrannical bitch” and her trial “for treason”.
Fox, the accused ringleader, was also heard telling an undercover FBI informant: “‘We’re going to kidnap the female dog. We need a team of seven to eight members. We’ll go up to her place and take a look at this…and we’re going there as low-key, pure-brother Michigan tourists. ‘”
Experts: a third try could be in stores
Former U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider, who has followed the case closely, said the prosecution learned a big lesson from the first trial and it was “clear they had changed strategy” to focus on what the defendants had done before meeting with FBI informants.
“However, the prosecution is not out of the woods yet,” said Schneider, who believes the judge’s handling of the case, such as limiting time for defense attorneys to cross-examine witnesses. , could give the defense grounds for appeal.
“The judge’s decision to severely limit the defense against cross-examination of witnesses will be the number one issue on appeal,” Schneider said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this case were overturned on appeal because of how the judge prevented the defendants from cross-examining witnesses. Then we could see a third trial.”
Prominent criminal defense attorney Mike Rataj, who represented one of the defendants in the failed Hutaree Militia Trial ten years ago expressed similar concerns.
“The judge wanted this case to be resolved very quickly, and he granted his wish,” said Rataj, who believes that the deadlines imposed only on the defense raise due process issues.
Rataj also has issues with the judge’s handling of the potentially problematic juror, arguing that the defense and prosecution should have been allowed to participate in the juror’s investigation.
“It’s definitely going to be a central issue for the call…it’s definitely something they can hang their hats on,” Rataj said of the defense, noting he was also unsettled by the selection process for the jury.
The jury was chosen in one day. The judge did the entire voir dire — or questioning — and gave both sides just 15 minutes to ask questions during the entire process.
“I said it before – it was rushed,” Rataj said. “And it seemed to me that the judge wanted this case to be resolved in a short time. I’m sorry. When people face life in prison, that’s not how a federal trial is supposed to go. “
Tresa Baldas: firstname.lastname@example.org