Sunday, January 29, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Michigan jury acquits two men accused of governor kidnapping plot; mistrial declared for two others

The men were portrayed by defense lawyers as empty braggarts and keyboard warriors who were rarely organized and ultimately pushed by FBI agents into a sinister plan they never would have concocted on their own.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (CN) — A jury in Michigan found two of the men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer not guilty then deadlocked on the charges for the others as a mistrial was declared. The verdict was reached after a full week of deliberation following a closely watched trial that stretched more than three weeks long.  

Daniel Harris, 23, of Lake Orion was found not guilty on all four charges against him and Brandon Caserta, 32, of Canton Township was acquitted of a single charge of kidnapping conspiracy.

The jury could not come to an agreement about Adam Fox, 40, of Wyoming, Michigan, and Barry Croft Jr., 45, of Bear, Delaware. Each of the men could have faced up to life in prison for the kidnapping conspiracy charges. Fox, Croft and Harris could have received life sentences for conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction.

“After using the suggestions of the court, we’re still unable to reach a unanimous decision on several counts,” the jury wrote in a note to Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker.

Harris avoided 10 years in prison for possession of an unregistered destructive device and a charge for possession of an unregistered short-barreled rifle that carries a penalty of a decade behind bars.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the jury submitted a question to Jonker on Monday asking for the definition of a “weapon.” Jonker, a George W. Bush appointee, told them a weapon is anything that can “destroy, injure or kill someone or something, as opposed to something you would use for fun.”

Jonker rejected the jury’s additional request on Tuesday to review court transcripts and urged them to focus on what they remembered from the testimony.

The trial finished quicker than expected, as the attorneys finished their closing statements Friday and put the case in the hands of the jury.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils R. Kessler said Adam Fox led the group because he felt humiliated living in a basement and wanted to blame Whitmer. Kessler explained that Fox’s lust for weapons of mass destruction had grown so hot that the FBI was forced to step in.

The prosecutor said the government provided enough to convict the four defendants.

“The evidence you heard proves they are guilty,” he concluded.

Christopher Gibbons of Gibbons & Boer, representing Fox, said his client was the victim of manipulation from the FBI.

“The plan was utter nonsense,” he said.

Gibbons said Fox was a financially disadvantaged blowhard without a criminal record who was constantly running his mouth about the government, but it never went further than that.

Croft’s attorney Joshua Blanchard was adamant about his client’s innocence in closing arguments.

“There was no plan to kidnap the governor,” he said. “They tried to make them look like they did.”

Among the testimony from the trial, jurors heard from several FBI agents as well as from one of the defendants himself.

FBI agent Timothy Bates, who was known as “Red” while undercover, testified about his contact with the accused and how he convinced them he had access to bomb-making materials. Bates said the explosives were coveted by Fox, who allegedly wanted to blow up a bridge near the governor’s home in order to slow the police response.

Daniel Harris was the only defendant to take the stand. His testimony began calmly with his lawyer asking him several times, between other questions, if he planned to kidnap the governor.

“Absolutely not,” he responded with an incredulous tone that sounded like a spoken whisper at times.

Harris became agitated when answering questions from the prosecution and called his co-defendants liars, but had to concede that he did make comments about dressing up as a pizza deliverer to kill Whitmer at her front door when confronted with recordings.

Garbin, who pleaded guilty in January 2021, was sentenced to more than six years in prison and agreed to testify against the four men on trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Roth asked him to describe what “boogaloo” meant when he was on the stand.  

“The boogaloo is a movement … the foundation of it is basically we need a second civil war, another revolution,” Garbin responded.

In his opening statement on March 9, Roth said the group was mad over the coronavirus lockdown implemented by Whitmer, a Democrat, but their anger was already simmering against politicians in general.

The sixth defendant, Franks, pleaded guilty to kidnapping conspiracy during a hearing on Feb. 9.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.

Loading
Loading...