Two men accused of plotting the kidnapping of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have been acquitted, while juries are still deadlocked on two other charges presented as “ringleaders.”
The jury on Friday acquitted Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta but failed to reach a verdict for Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr. – resulting in a mistrial.
US Attorneys in Grand Rapids called it “obviously” disappointing and vowed to retry Mr Croft Jr and Mr Fox, who has been described as the leader of the anti-government group.
The verdicts for Mr Harris and Mr Caserta came hours after US District Judge Robert Jonker sent jurors back to their chamber to continue working after they presented a note saying they were deadlocked.
Acquittals or convictions must be unanimous.
All four of the defendants pleaded not guilty, arguing that a man who served as an FBI informant was the real ringleader and incited the group for months. That argument was countered by two other co-defendants in the alleged conspiracy, who previously pleaded guilty and told the jury the government did not implicate the men in planning the conspiracy.
Three of the men, Mr Croft, Mr Fox and Mr Harris, faced charges of “conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction” relating to an explosive device, while Mr Harris also faces charges of possession of a weapon not registered to him. A pair of co-defendants, Mr. Harris and Mr. Croft, faced a final charge in connection with what appeared to be a home-made shrapnel bomb: penny-wrapped fireworks.
Two of the charges, kidnapping and weapons of mass destruction charges, carry the potential for life sentences. Their alleged plans never materialized, and the men were arrested a month before the 2020 election. The shocking story was a reminder of the growing divisions in the US and the enduring threat of politically motivated violence, particularly on the far right.
Ms. Whitmer did not stand for re-election in 2020, having been elected to a four-year term in 2018.
Defense attorneys argued throughout the trial that their clients were not serious about conducting the plot and that an FBI informant who was secretly taping the men was the driving force in the plot, pushing the others to commit illegal acts . That testimony was faced with conflicting testimonies from another man charged in the conspiracy, Kaleb Franks, who told the court that Mr Fox spoke to him about the kidnapping plot “every time I saw him”.
The conspiracy was apparently the result of anger over Michigan’s Covid-19 restrictions, which have now all but evaporated as the position of many state governments, including Michigan’s, has shifted to supporting vaccination and booster shots .