Jurors will hear closing arguments Friday in the trial of four men accused of brazen conspiracy to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a case built on whistleblowers, undercover agents, classified records and two people who pleaded guilty and cooperated.
Only one defendant, Daniel Harris, chose to testify in his own defense. But his Thursday denial of a crime was met with an aggressive cross-examination, during which prosecutors used his own words to show his contempt for Whitmer and even suggestions on how to kill her.
Adam Fox, Barry Croft Jr. and Brandon Caserta declined to testify, and defense attorneys called few witnesses. The four deny any plans to bring Whitmer to her vacation home in the fall of 2020, despite anger at the government and the restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The men were arrested in October 2020 while trying to raise $4,000 for an explosive that trial evidence said could blow up a bridge and impede police following a kidnapping. Fox made two trips to northern Michigan to explore the area.
However, defenders insist they were under the spell of whistleblowers and agents who made them say and do violent, provocative things.
When asked by his attorney if he was part of a conspiracy, Harris repeatedly replied “absolutely not.” His testimony was dangerous because he faced numerous challenges from prosecutors who had been offering evidence against the group for days.
Harris and Assistant US Attorney Jonathan Roth sometimes spoke about each other. At one point, Harris snapped, “Next question.”
“Anyone can turn it down a little bit,” US District Judge Robert Jonker later said.
Roth confronted Harris with his own chat messages about impersonating a pizza delivery boy and killing Whitmer at her door. He reminded Harris, a former Marine, that he had worked with explosives while training with the group, specifically in Luther, Michigan, in September 2020, about a month before their arrest.
Roth acted out a conversation of Croft talking about militias taking down governments in various states and “breaking a few eggs” when needed.
“If this man is talking to you at a diner about killing people, you don’t get up and go out, do you?” Roth asked. “You’re not saying ‘this group isn’t for me,’ are you, sir?”
“No,” Harris replied.
A “shooting house,” designed to resemble Whitmer’s second home, was a key part of Luther’s training weekend, according to the government. Harris admitted he brought materials with him, but said he didn’t build it with her house in mind.
He did not join an evening drive to Elk Rapids, Michigan, to explore Whitmer’s home and a bridge that same weekend. Harris said he bought cheap beer and $200 worth of cigarettes so he could return to camp and “waste himself” with others.
Two other men, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, pleaded guilty and cooperated with investigators. Garbin said last week the group acted willingly, hoping to go on strike ahead of the election, causing national chaos and preventing Joe Biden from winning the presidency.
Whitmer, a Democrat, rarely speaks publicly about the kidnapping plan, though during her tenure she cited “surprises” that seemed like “something out of fiction” when she ran for re-election on March 17.
She has accused former President Donald Trump of stoking anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to convict far-right extremists like those accused in the case. Whitmer has said Trump was involved in the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.
For AP’s full coverage of the Whitmer kidnapping trial, go to: https://apnews.com/hub/whitmer-kidnap-plot-trial
White reported from Detroit.