The three men are accused of working with the federally indicted group of six who prosecutors say became enraged over Covid-19 lockdowns mandated by Governor Gretchen Whitmer and sought to try her for treason.
JACKSON, Mich. (CN) — Three men charged on the state level for a plan to kidnap Democratic Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer went before a judge Tuesday for a pretrial hearing to determine bond conditions and set dates for motion arguments as the parties prepare for a long court battle.
Pete Musico, 43 and Joseph M. Morrison, 26, both from Munith, and Paul Edward Bellar, 22, of Milford, attended the hearing via Zoom as Jackson County Judge Thomas Wilson agreed to hear future arguments about Morrison’s continued incarceration and whether evidentiary hearings would be needed.
Attorney Nicholas Somberg, who is representing Morrison, said that his client’s $150,000 bond was too high and that he would agree to wear a GPS tether if released.
“He’s been a model inmate,” Somberg told the judge.
But Sunita Doddamani, Michigan’s assistant attorney general, disagreed. She said that a mountain of evidence was presented in a previous hearing that proved Morrison should remain in custody.
“We’ve objected to bond on this case the entire way through,” she said.
Bellar, the youngest of the men charged in the plot, was extradited in October to Michigan from Columbia, South Carolina. He does not have a criminal history and is an Army veteran.
In an interview with The Columbia Post and Courier in October, Bellar’s father denied that his son was seriously involved with the alleged kidnapping plot. Thomas Bellar acknowledged that his child attended “a couple of training sessions,” but insisted he quickly severed his ties.
“He left them on very bad terms,” the elder Bellar said. “He told them they were crazy.”
Bellar’s lawyer, Andrew Kirkpatrick from the firm Dungan and Kirkpatrick, convinced the judge to allow his client to go back to South Carolina to retrieve his personal belongings. Kirkpatrick said he did not want to move back to South Carolina and stays with family in Michigan.
“Clearly if he wanted to flee, judge, he would have fled,” Kirkpatrick said.
The attorney added that Bellar simply wanted to get his car, his clothes and come right back to Michigan, and Bellar said he could complete the task in four days.
Doddamani was not convinced Bellar could be trusted. Wilson said he understood Doddamani’s argument but thought Bellar wouldn’t be able to get far if he decided to run.
“If he takes off he’s going to have a huge manhunt, and they will get him,” the judge said.
The parties agreed to meet again on July 20, when the judge will decide on evidentiary hearings and hear defense motions that allege entrapment.
Doddamani said she is also planning to file a motion to reinstate terrorism charges against Morrison and Musico that were dismissed by Jackson County Judge Michael Klaeren.
Prosecutors say Musico is a co-founder of the Wolverine Watchmen militia group. Newsweek reported that Musico and Morrison, his roommate, conducted “tactical training” at their home for the six other men charged federally. Morrison is also said to be a co-founder of the Wolverine Watchmen.
Law enforcement executed a search warrant on the pair’s home on the night of Oct. 7, 2020, during which evidence was collected and the two men were arrested. They were arraigned in Jackson County District Court the next day, with their bonds initially set at $10 million each.
Prosecutors have accused Morrison and Musico of aiding in the surveillance of bridges they planned to blow up as a distraction during the kidnapping, and also claim they helped collect addresses of law enforcement officers with a plan to kill them.
The leader of the federally indicted men, Adam Fox, 40, of Wyoming, Michigan, is accused of spearheading the effort to obtain the explosive devices and allegedly ordered $4,000 worth of materials from an undercover FBI agent in September 2020. Fox also traveled with Barry Croft Jr., 45, of Bear, Delaware, to explore highway overpasses where bombs could be placed, according to a superseding indictment returned by a grand jury in late April that added firearms violations and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction.
After Whitmer locked down the state last year to slow the spread of Covid-19, right-wing activists, including some carrying assault rifles, descended on the Michigan Capitol to protest her stay-at-home order in a scene that presaged the attempted U.S. Capitol siege on Jan. 6. The governor continues to be a target of criticism by Republican officials over her handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Former President Donald Trump was a particularly vocal critic of Whitmer.
In meetings last summer, Fox allegedly pitched a plan to kidnap Whitmer at her private vacation residence or the governor’s official summer home.
“Snatch and grab, man. Grab the fuckin’ governor. Just grab the bitch. Because at that point, we do that, dude — it’s over,” Fox told co-conspirators, according to the FBI affidavit.
The men planned to transport Whitmer to Wisconsin for their version of a trial, prosecutors said. Another defendant in the federal case, Daniel Joseph Harris, 23, of Lake Orion, Michigan, was allegedly recorded advocating for the assassination of the governor in the secret meetings.
“Have one person go to her house. Knock on the door and when she answers it just cap her… Fuck it,” he allegedly said. “I mean…fuck, catch her walking into the building and act like a passers-by and fixing dome her then yourself, whoever does it.”
Besides Fox, Croft and Harris, the other men facing federal charges are Brandon Caserta, 32, of Canton Township; Kaleb Franks, 26, of Waterford; and Ty Garbin, 25, of Hartland Township.
Whitmer was criticized for what some saw as hypocrisy last weekend when she was seen in a photo at a bar in Lansing that flouted Covid-19 protocols.
“Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been committed to following public health protocols,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Yesterday, I went with friends to a local restaurant. As more people arrived, the tables were pushed together. Because we were all vaccinated, we didn’t stop to think about it.”
She added, “In retrospect, I should have thought about it. I am human. I made a mistake, and I apologize.”