Court Update as of 12:46 p.m. -- Attorneys for four men charged with planning to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told jurors Wednesday that they were swayed by informants and federal agents who targeted them for their anti-government views.
They portrayed the men as big talkers, wannabes who never meant what they said and, in one case, a pot-smoking "misfit" influenced by an FBI informant he met at a protest.
Attorney Joshua Blanchard said the FBI lined up an informant with a long criminal history to reach out to Barry Croft Jr. and lure him to militia meetings and gun training in Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan. Another informant, Blanchard said, drove Croft all the way to Wisconsin from Delaware.
"There was no plan, there was no agreement and no kidnapping," Blanchard said during his opening statement in a federal courtroom in Grand Rapids.
Court Update as of 10:37 a.m. -- A lawyer for one of the men charged with planning to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday he was a hapless, pot-smoking "misfit" who was influenced by an FBI informant whom he met at a protest, not a mastermind of the 2020 plot as prosecutors allege.
Defense attorney Christopher Gibbons told jurors Adam Fox was practically homeless while living in the basement of a vacuum shop and brushing his teeth next door in a restaurant restroom.
"Adam Fox did not commit a crime in this case," Gibbons said during opening statements in a federal courtroom in Grand Rapids.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Opening statements started Wednesday in the trial of four men who prosecutors say plotted to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 because they were angry about pandemic restrictions she imposed.
Prosecutors have said they will present secret recordings of the men discussing the plan and other evidence, including that they surveilled Whitmer's vacation home and conducted training with weapons.
Defense attorneys say the men deny any conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer. They have signaled an entrapment defense, criticizing the government's use of undercover FBI agents and confidential informants.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker told potential jurors: "This isn't your average criminal case" because of the extraordinary allegations of violence planned against an elected official.
Eleven women and seven men were selected to serve as jurors, with 12 who will decide the case and six alternates, though the court did not make clear Tuesday which jurors are alternates. Before they left the courtroom, Jonker told the jury to stay off social media and not discuss the case with family.
"Put them on pause," he said.
Conference tables along one wall of the wood-paneled courtroom, crowded with different teams of defense lawyers and aides, are one indication of the complexity of the case jurors must sit through for then next few weeks. The strategies of the different defense teams are not perfectly coordinated, so defense lawyers could often make different objections or motions, or ask questions during cross-examination seeking to score different points with jurors.
Prosecutors say the men — Adam Fox, Brandon Caserta, Barry Croft Jr. and Daniel Harris — came up with the plan to snatch Whitmer in 2020, when stay-home orders were in place and the economy was restricted. They're accused of taking critical steps over several months, including secret messaging, gun drills in the woods and a night drive to northern Michigan to scout her second home and figure out how to blow up a bridge.
At the time, Whitmer was trading taunts with then-President Donald Trump over his administration's response to COVID-19. Her critics, meanwhile, were regularly protesting at the Michigan Capitol, clogging streets around the statehouse and legally carrying semi-automatic rifles into the building.
The FBI said it thwarted the kidnapping plot with the arrests of six men in October 2020. Two of them, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, have pleaded guilty and will appear as crucial witnesses for the government, giving jurors an inside view of what was planned.
Garbin said Fox, the alleged ringleader, wanted the men to chip in for a $4,000 explosive large enough to destroy a bridge near Whitmer's home and distract police during a kidnapping.
Garbin and Franks insist no one in the group acted because of excessive influence by agents or undercover informants.
Whitmer, who is seeking reelection this year, rarely talks publicly about the case and isn't expected to attend the trial. She has blamed Trump for stoking mistrust and fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn hate groups and right-wing extremists like those charged in the plot. She has said he was also complicit in the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
Separately, authorities in state court are prosecuting eight men who are accused of aiding the group.
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