By JOHN FLESHER and ED WHITE
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — A jury in Michigan started its deliberations Monday in the trial of four men accused of designing a plan to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
The jury picked a leader Friday and went home for the weekend, following hours of closing arguments from lawyers on the 15th day of trial.
Adam Fox, Barry Croft Jr., Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta can be found guilty of conspiracy, even if it wasn’t possible to pull off the kidnapping in fall 2020, U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker said during jury instructions.
A key factor, if the jury finds it, would be a “mutual understanding either spoken or unspoken” between two or more people in the group, the judge said.
Fox, Croft and Harris also face charges related to weapons.
“Deciding what the facts are is your job, not mine,” Jonker told the jury.
Prosecutors said the plot was simmering for months, leavened by anti-government extremism and anger over Whitmer’s COVID-19 restrictions. With undercover FBI agents and informants embedded in the group, the men trained with a crudely built “shoot house” to replicate her vacation home, prosecutors allege.
There is no dispute that the alleged leaders, Fox and Croft, traveled to Elk Rapids, Michigan, to scout the governor’s property and a nearby bridge that same weekend in September 2020.
Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, who pleaded guilty and testified against the four men, were on the same road trip, along with covert investigators.
Garbin said the goal was to get Whitmer before the fall election and create enough chaos to create a civil war and stop Joe Biden from winning the presidency. Much of the government’s case came from secretly recorded conversations, group messages and social media posts.
“You heard them in their own voices over and over again,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler told jurors, “talking about kidnapping her, murdering her, blowing up bridges and people and anybody who could get in their way. And it wasn’t just talk.”
The men were arrested in October 2020.
Defense lawyers, especially those representing Fox and Croft, attacked the government’s investigation and the use of a crucial informant, Dan Chappel. They claimed Chappel was the real leader, taking direction from the FBI and keeping the group on edge while recording them for months.
“Dan Chappel makes everything happen,” attorney Christopher Gibbons said in his closing remarks.
Attorney Joshua Blanchard repeatedly called the scheme “smoke and mirrors.”
“There was no plan. There was no agreement,” he said.
Croft is from Bear, Delaware, while the others are from Michigan.
Whitmer, a Democrat, rarely talks publicly about the 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.