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Home / Legal News / Defense rests in trial of 4 men in Gov. Whitmer kidnap plot (UPDATE)

Defense rests in trial of 4 men in Gov. Whitmer kidnap plot (UPDATE)

This combination of photos provided by the Kent County Sheriff and the Delaware Department of Justice shows, top row from left, Brandon Caserta and Barry Croft; and bottom row from left, Adam Dean Fox and Daniel Harris. (Kent County Sheriff, Delaware Department of Justice via AP File)

Associated Press

One of four men charged with conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer testified in his own defense Thursday, repeatedly telling jurors “absolutely not” when asked if he agreed to abduct her before the 2020 election.

Daniel Harris’ appearance in the witness chair was a dramatic shift on the 14th day of trial, following days of testimony from undercover FBI agents, a gutsy informant and two men who have pleaded guilty and pointed fingers at the rest of the group.

Harris, 24, was the only defendant to speak to jurors, and other defense lawyers rested their case after an aggressive cross-examination by a prosecutor. Closing arguments were planned for Friday.

Harris, Adam Fox, Barry Croft Jr., and Brandon Caserta are accused of plotting to kidnap Whitmer from her vacation home in northern Michigan because of their disgust with government and her tough COVID-19 restrictions

Harris, a former Marine, said he wanted to maintain his infantry skills when he joined a militia, the Wolverine Watchmen, not snatch Whitmer or blow up a nearby bridge.

But after friendly questions from a defense lawyer, the atmosphere in court turned tense as a prosecutor confronted Harris with his chat messages about possibly posing as a pizza deliveryman and killing Whitmer. He also reminded Harris that he worked with explosives while training with the group.

Harris and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Roth sometimes talked over each other. At one point, Harris snapped, “Next question.”

“Everyone can take it down a notch,” U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker said later.

Soon after being sworn-in, Harris, 24, repeatedly rejected claims that he was involved in crimes. He said “America was on fire” in 2020 over the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, protests over police treatment of Black people and a pandemic that shut down parts of the economy.

A central part of the government’s case is a firearms training weekend at Luther, Michigan, in September 2020 with a “shoot house” that was intended to replicate Whitmer’s second home. Harris admitted that he brought materials but said he didn’t build it with her property in mind.

Defense attorney Julia Kelly took Harris through several key events raised by prosecutors earlier in the trial and asked: “Did you agree to kidnap the governor of Michigan?”

“Absolutely not,” Harris replied.

He didn’t participate in an evening ride to Elk Rapids, Michigan, to scout Whitmer’s second home and a nearby bridge during that same training weekend.

Harris said he had purchased $200 of cheap beer and cigarettes so he could return to the camp and “get wasted” with others.

“I had assumed they went to a strip club or a bar,” Harris said of Fox and Croft.

The men were arrested in October 2020 amid talk of raising $4,000 for an explosive that could blow up a bridge and hold back police from responding to a kidnapping at Whitmer’s home, according to trial testimony.

Defense attorneys claim the men were engaged in a lot of wild talk fueled by agents and informants but no conspiracy.

The prosecutor covered a lot of ground during cross-examination, often referring Harris to his social media posts or chat messages to challenge his testimony. Roth noted that Harris had said the Founding Fathers would have approved of killing certain officials.

“Tyrants,” Harris told Roth.

“Was Gov. Whitmer a tyrant?” the prosecutor asked.

“Not really. She was just a governor to me,” Harris said, adding that she performed “poorly.”

Last week, Ty Garbin, who pleaded guilty and cooperated with investigators, said the group acted willingly and hoped to strike before the election, cause national chaos and prevent Joe Biden from winning the presidency.

Whitmer, a Democrat, rarely talks publicly about the kidnapping plot, though she referred to “surprises” during her term that seemed like “something out of fiction” when she filed for reelection on March 17.

She has blamed former President Donald Trump for fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn right-wing extremists like those charged in the case. Whitmer has said Trump was complicit in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

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