Trial of four men accused of plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer set to open

FILE PHOTO: Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer visits the Ford Bronco off-road track during the Motor Bella 2021 auto show in Pontiac, Michigan
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visits the Ford Bronco off-road track during the Motor Bella 2021 auto show.
Reuters file

Prosecutors and defense attorneys will present opening statements on Wednesday in the federal trial of four men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 over restrictions she had imposed to control the pandemic.

Adam Fox, Brandon Caserta, Barry Croft Jr. and Daniel Harris are each charged with conspiracy to kidnap the Democratic governor from her vacation home. If convicted by a 12-person jury seated on Tuesday, they face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

All the defendants except Caserta are also charged with knowingly conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction against persons or property.

Lawyers representing the four either declined comment or could not be reached for comment.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jonker is presiding over the case in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Prosecutors are expected to rely on the testimony of two key witnesses — Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks. Indicted along with the four defendants by a grand jury in December 2020, Garbin and Frank struck plea deals with prosecutors and agreed to testify against the defendants.

Garbin is currently serving a six-year sentence, while Franks is awaiting sentencing.

A total of 13 men, some of whom prosecutors said were associated with an anti-government militia group known as Wolverine Watchmen, were arrested in October 2020 and charged with state or federal crimes in the alleged kidnapping conspiracy. Seven of them are facing charges in state court.

The FBI said it began tracking the group’s movements after seeing online discussions that included posts about the violent overthrow of some state governments to end restrictions on social and business activities imposed to control the coronavirus.

The indictment accuses one or more of the defendants of discussing Whitner’s kidnapping and planning to meet in July in Wisconsin to train with assault rifles. The posts also discussed buying supplies to be used in the kidnapping and putting Whitmer’s vacation home under surveillance.

Fox, Croft and Harris are accused in the indictment of planning to destroy a bridge near the governor’s vacation home in efforts to hinder a response by law enforcement.

Fox ordered $4,000 worth of explosives from an undercover FBI agent posing as a co-conspirator, the indictment said. It also said Fox and Harris made payments for the explosives in the following weeks.

According to prosecutors, Fox proposed the group take Whitmer, who he saw as a tyrant for ordering the closure of gyms, to Wisconsin and placed on a trial for “treason.”

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