3 men found guilty of supporting a plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer
Three men accused of supporting terrorism in the plot to kidnap Michigan’s governor were found guilty on all charges Wednesday in a trial that focused on paramilitary drills and fierce contempt for the government ahead of the 2020 election.
Joe Morrison, his father-in-law Pete Musico and Paul Bellar have been found guilty of providing « material support » to an act of terrorism as members of a group known as the Wolverine Watchmen.
They held gun training in rural Jackson County with a kidnapping plan leader, Adam Fox, who was disgusted with Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other officials and said he wanted the ‘to remove.
The trial in state court was an offshoot of the main case in federal court, which produced mixed results: conspiracy convictions for Fox and three others, but also two acquittals.
Jurors in Jackson, Michigan read and heard violent, anti-government screeds and support for the « boogaloo, » a civil war that could be sparked by a shocking kidnapping. Prosecutors said the COVID-19 restrictions ordered by Whitmer proved helpful in recruiting more people for the Watchmen.
“The facts are slowly flowing,” Assistant State Attorney General Bill Rollstin told the jury, “and you start to see – wow – there were things that happened that people were aware of. current…. When you see how close Adam Fox has come to the Governor, you can see how a very bad event has been thwarted.
Morrison, 28, Musico, 44, and Bellar, 24, were also convicted of a felony with a firearm and gang membership. Prosecutors said the Wolverine Watchmen was a criminal enterprise.
Morrison, who recently tested positive for COVID-19, and Musico were emotional as they watched the verdicts by video away from the courtroom. Judge Thomas Wilson ordered all three to be jailed pending sentencing on December 15.
The verdicts « are further proof that violence and threats have no place in our politics, » said Whitmer, who did not participate as a witness or spectator in the trial in state or federal cases. . « Those who seek to sow discord by pursuing violent conspiracies will be held accountable under the law.
Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat in a close race for re-election, hailed the result and praised law enforcement. After hearing nine days of testimony, the jury deliberated Tuesday afternoon and for less than two hours Wednesday.
“Jackson County is not known for having, I guess, liberal juries. They tend to be a conservative bunch,” Nessel said. “But I think what they’ve seen here is that it’s not a political issue. … These are individuals who have not aligned themselves with any party. In fact, they were just anti-government all together. »
Defense attorneys argued that Morrison, Musico and Bellar severed ties with Fox in late summer 2020 when Whitmer’s plot was hatched. Unlike Fox and others, they didn’t travel to northern Michigan to scout the governor’s vacation home or participate in a key weekend practice session at a makeshift ‘shooting house’. in Luther, Michigan.
« In this country you are allowed to speak, but you are only convicted if you follow the march, » Musico’s attorney Kareem Johnson said in his closing remarks.
Defense attorneys could not plead entrapment. But they attacked the tactics of Dan Chappel, an army veteran and undercover informant. He took instructions from FBI agents, secretly recorded conversations, and produced a deep cache of messages exchanged with the men.
Whitmer, who is seeking re-election Nov. 8, has never been physically injured. Undercover agents and informants were inside Fox’s group for months. The scheme was halted with 14 arrests in October 2020.
Fox and Barry Croft Jr. were convicted of a kidnapping conspiracy in federal court in August. Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta were acquitted last spring. Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks pleaded guilty.
Five of the 14 men face charges in state court in County Antrim, the site of Whitmer’s second home. A judge has yet to determine if there is enough evidence to send them to trial.
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Ed White, The Associated Press