A Michigan jury has returned its verdict that, it’s safe to say, surprised prosecutors who charged four anti-government militia members for allegedly attempting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D).
The men were reportedly upset over Whitmer’s COVID-19 restrictions in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
The government had charged the four defendants, Daniel Harris, 24, Adam Fox, 38, Barry Croft Jr., 46 and Brandon Caserta, 33, with kidnapping conspiracy charges.
They also charged Harris, Fox and Croft with conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction against persons or property.
But a Grand Rapids jury found Harris not guilty on all charges. Caserta was found not guilty of conspiracy. Both men were freed after two years behind bars.
The jury deadlocked on reaching a verdict for the accused ringleaders, Croft and Harris. U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker declared a mistrial against the two men.
Afterward, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan vowed to retry Croft and Harris.
The Detroit News reports on the significant blow to the government, which billed the trial as the most dangerous example of domestic terrorism in years:
“Best birthday gift ever,” Caserta told supporters as relatives yelled “Happy Birthday” inside the federal courtroom in downtown Grand Rapids.
The trial lasted 20 days, including 13 days of testimony and approximately 38 hours of jury deliberations spanning five days. Jurors — six men, six women, all white — heard hours of closing arguments and instructions last week after testimony and a multimedia case from the government.
Defense lawyers spent months raising questions about FBI agent conduct and claiming that a team of investigators and informants orchestrated the conspiracy and entrapped the four men, a ragtag band of social outcasts who harbored antigovernment views and anger over restrictions imposed by Whitmer.
The four men in the Whitmer kidnapping case faced kidnapping conspiracy charges, a felony punishable by up to life in prison. Three faced multiple charges, including conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction.