2 defendants acquitted in Michigan governor kidnapping case; mistrial declared for 2 others
By Brian Vitagliano, CNN
(CNN) -- A federal jury on Friday found two men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer not guilty of kidnapping conspiracy and a mistrial was declared for two other defendants.
Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta faced federal charges for allegedly conspiring to kidnap the Democratic governor. All four defendants, who pleaded not guilty, faced up to life in prison if convicted of kidnapping conspiracy.
Harris and Caserta were found not guilty of kidnapping conspiracy. The jury also found Harris not guilty on other charges. The jury could not reach a verdict for Fox and Croft, after which US District Judge Robert Jonker declared a mistrial for those defendants.
US Attorney Andrew Birge said in a statement to CNN that the Michigan US Attorney's Office is "disappointed" with the jury's decision but that it respects the jury trial system. He added that two defendants await a retrial and so he would not comment further.
Whitmer's chief of staff said in a statement that "the governor remains focused on her work" in the state and that "there must be accountability and consequences for those who commit heinous crimes."
"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," chief of staff JoAnne Huls said. "There must be accountability and consequences for those who commit heinous crimes. Without accountability, extremists will be emboldened."
The indictment alleged that in 2020, six men charged in the case conspired with others to "unlawfully seize, kidnap, abduct and carry away, and hold for ransom and reward" Whitmer. Authorities have said the men were planning to kidnap the Democratic governor from a vacation home and blow up a bridge to delay law enforcement, but they were arrested first.
Two defendants previously pleaded guilty and testified in the trial against the four others.
Prosecutors had described the alleged plans in stark terms.
"They said they wanted to kidnap the governor. They trained to kidnap the governor. They cased her house in the middle of the night. They mapped it out. They planned it. They gathered weapons and bonds," prosecutor Nils Kessler said during closing arguments last week.
Kessler said the convicted co-conspirators, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, who testified at trial, "testified to you that this plot was real."
Defense attorneys claimed federal law enforcement manufactured the alleged kidnapping conspiracy through confidential informants and undercover agents.
Fox, who was impoverished, unfocused and had little tactical abilities, never would've found his way to the alleged crimes without the coaxing of a paid confidential informant who propped up Fox as a leader of the plot, Fox's attorney told the jury.
Croft's attorney Joshua Blanchard also argued federal law enforcement agents fabricated the investigation to advance their own personal careers and challenged the jury to correct their error.
"This investigation was an embarrassment and we have to tell them this isn't how our country operates. This isn't how our justice system is supposed to work. We can't use people like Barry Croft, and Adam Fox, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta. We can't use them as pawns in order to advance our interests."
Blanchard acknowledged Croft said some offensive things on the secret recordings but chalked it up to "stoned crazy talk."
During the trial, FBI agents raided a residence on the outskirts of Detroit last week in connection to threats made to the judge, two defense attorneys and at least one potential witness.
This story has been updated with additional details and statements.
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