by John Fleischer and Ed White
Grand Rapids, Mich. (AP) — A jury on Friday acquitted two men of all charges in conspiracy to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer but could not reach a verdict against the two alleged leaders, a surprise defeat for the government after a week of trial that focused on a remarkable FBI sting operation just before the 2020 election.
The results were announced hours after the jury said it was struggling to find a consensus on all 10 charges. On the fifth day of deliberations, the judge asked the panel to keep working, but after lunch the jury resurfaced and said they were still at a standstill in some cases.
Daniel Harris, 24, and Brandon Caserta, 33, were found not guilty of conspiracy. In addition, Harris was acquitted of charges related to explosives and a gun.
The jury could not reach a verdict of 38-year-old Adam Fox and 46-year-old Barry Croft Jr., meaning the government could try them again.
“Obviously we are disappointed with the outcome. … We have two defendants awaiting trial and we will get back to work on that,” said US Attorney Andrew Birge.
Harris and Caserta hugged their lawyers when U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker said they were awaiting trial after 18 months in prison. The family members gasped and cried with joy a few moments ago when the verdict was read.
His arrest in Michigan in 2020 comes amid turmoil in the US over a year that began with pandemic lockdowns and then shifted to armed Capitol protests over COVID-19 restrictions ordered by Whitmer and other governors. By the end of May, anger over racial injustice and the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police broke out in demonstrations in cities across the country.
In the Grand Rapids courtroom, during 13 days of testimony, prosecutors presented evidence from undercover agents, a key informant, and two men who pleaded guilty to conspiracy. Jury members also read and listened to secretly recorded conversations, violent social media posts and chat messages.
Ty Garbin, who pleaded guilty and is serving a six-year prison sentence, said the plan was to get Whitmer and create enough chaos to trigger a civil war ahead of the election, keeping Joe Biden from winning the presidency. was stopping.
According to the trial, Garbin and Caleb Franks, who also pleaded guilty and testified for the government, were among six people who were charged with raising $4,000 for explosives to blow up a bridge in October 2020 and any police for kidnapping. The arrest was made amid talk of stopping the reaction. Testimony.
Prosecutors said the group was steeped in anti-government militancy and was furious over Whitmer’s pandemic restrictions. There was evidence of a badly constructed “shoot house” for a night ride by Croft, Fox and undercover operatives to practice going in and out of their vacation home and to investigate the property.
But defense lawyers portrayed the men as credible weekend warriors who talked big, wildly and often rocked marijuana. He said that agents and informers tricked the people and persuaded them to target the governor.
During the closing debate a week ago, Fox’s attorney Christopher Gibbons said the plan was “absolute nonsense” and urged jurors to have a “firewall” against the government.
Harris was the only defendant to testify in his defense, repeatedly telling jurors “absolutely not” when asked whether he had targeted the governor.
“I think what the FBI did is unconscionable,” Caserta’s attorney, Michael Hills, said outside the court. “And I think the jury just sent them a message loud and clear that these tactics — we’re not going to forgive what we’ve done here.”
Gibbons said the acquittals of Harris and Caserta show some serious flaws in the government’s case.
“We’ll be up for another trial. … We’ll eventually get what we wanted out of it, which is the truth and justice that I think Adam deserves,” Gibbons said.
“The result is disappointing,” Michigan Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist said. Whitmer’s office released a statement from her chief of staff, saying that Americans are “living through a normalization of political violence.”
“The conspiracy to kidnap and murder the governor may sound like an anomaly. But we have to be honest about what it really is: the result of the violent, divisive rhetoric that is so common in our country,” said Joanne Hulse. “There should be accountability and consequences for those who commit heinous crimes. Without accountability, extremists will be encouraged.”
Deliberations resumed Friday with a court employee handing jurors a large plastic bag containing pennies, known as Evidence 291. The pennies were requested before the jury went home on Thursday.
According to the government, pennies taped to a commercial-grade firework were intended to act like shrapnel against Whitmer’s security team.
The trial covered 20 days from March 8, including jury selection, evidence, final arguments and jury deliberations. Croft Bear is from Delaware, while the others are from Michigan.
Whitmer, a Democrat, rarely spoke publicly about the conspiracy, although she did mention “surprises” during her tenure that seemed like “something out of imagination” when she spoke again on March 17. filed for election.
She has accused former President Donald Trump of inciting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn right-wing extremists like those accused in the case.
The case was heard by a jury of six women and six men, plus four alternates. Little is known about them. Jonker ordered out of privacy concerns that he be identified only by numbers. During the hearing, two jurors were dismissed due to illness.
Separately, state court officials are prosecuting eight people accused of aiding a group that was on trial in federal court.
Find the AP’s full coverage of the Whitmer kidnapping conspiracy trial here:
White reported from Detroit. Associated Press journalists Sarah Burnett in Chicago and Dave Eggert in Grand Rapids contributed to this report.