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2 men acquitted in plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer; jury deadlocks on 2 others

Partial verdict in Whitmer kidnap plot
Partial verdict reached in Whitmer kidnapping plot trial 05:51

Jurors reached a partial verdict Friday in the case of four men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Two of the defendants were acquitted on all charges, while the jury deadlocked on two other defendants, resulting in a mistrial on those counts.

Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta were both found not guilty. The charges against Adam Fox and Barry Croft, Jr. were declared "no verdict" and Judge James Jonker declared a mistrial on those counts.

All four were charged with conspiracy, accused by prosecutors of being angry over COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the Democratic governor and seeking to ignite a civil war. Three of the men also faced weapons charges. 

Two other defendants previously pleaded guilty and cooperated with investigators.

L-R: Brandon Caserta, Barry Croft, Adam Dean Fox, and Daniel Harris.  Kent County Sheriff, Delaware Department of Justice via AP

Friday morning, jurors sent a note to the judge saying they had reached agreement on several counts but were deadlocked on others. The judge sent them back to continue their deliberations, encouraging them to "take another look, a fresh look." But the jury returned several hours later to say they were still unable to reach a verdict on some counts.

Governor Whitmer's office issued a statement after the outcome was announced, decrying "the normalization of political violence." 

"The plot to kidnap and kill a governor may seem like an anomaly. But we must be honest about what it really is: the result of violent, divisive rhetoric that is all too common across our country. There must be accountability and consequences for those who commit heinous crimes. Without accountability, extremists will be emboldened," said the statement by Whitmer's chief of staff, JoAnne Huls.

"The governor remains focused on her work on behalf of Michigan and all Michiganders. That includes addressing violence and threats to our democracy. We appreciate the prosecutors and law enforcement officers for their work on this case." 

The jury, made up of six men and six women, elected a foreperson last week and began deliberating Monday after two weeks of primarily prosecution testimony. 

"They were filled with rage," Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils said of the defendants in closing arguments last Friday, the 15th day of trial in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan. "They were paranoid because they knew what they were doing was wrong and they feared they could be caught."

The men were arrested in October 2020 amid talk of raising $4,000 for an explosive that could blow up a bridge and stymie police after a kidnapping, according to trial evidence. Fox twice traveled to northern Michigan to scout the area.

Only one defendant, Harris, chose to testify in his own defense, and the four men deny any scheme to get Whitmer at her vacation home. Defense attorneys insist they were under the spell of informants and agents who got them to say and do violent, provocative things.

Fox's attorney, Christopher Gibbons, said Fox was a hapless man living in the basement of a Grand Rapids-area vacuum shop, smoking marijuana whenever possible and totally incapable of leading the wild plot.

"The plan was utter nonsense. It wasn't real to Adam Fox. He was LARPing," Gibbons said, using an acronym for live action role playing. "Adam Fox is usually impaired. He's just playing his game. ... A person cannot accidentally enter into a conspiracy."

Lawyers for Harris and Caserta emphasized that neither man went to Elk Rapids with Croft and Fox to surveil Whitmer's home.

Defense attorney Julia Kelly said Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, who both testified against the group, are "liars," though they pleaded guilty and are facing prison.

After the verdict was announced, the judge said Harris and Caserta would be free to leave. As for Fox and Croft, because the case against them has not been resolved, he said they would be remanded into custody.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge issued a statement saying, "Although we are disappointed the jury did not reach decisions in our favor, we continue to respect the jury trial system whatever the outcome. And we thank the jury for their service. Two defendants now await re-trial and, for that reason, we have no further statement at this time."

The defendants and charges

With the jury deadlocked on charges against Adam Fox and Barry Croft, Jr., the judge declared a mistrial on those counts. 

Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta were acquitted on all counts:

On Count 1: Conspiracy to Commit Kidnapping: Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta were both found NOT GUILTY.

On Count 2: Weapon of Mass Destruction: Daniel Harris was found NOT GUILTY

On Count 3: Possession of an Unregistered Destructive Device: Daniel Harris was found NOT GUILTY

On Count 4: Possession of a Short Barrel Rifle: Daniel Harris was found NOT GUILTY

Cassandra Gauthier contributed to this report.

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