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Michigan trio convicted of aiding plot to kidnap governor

The three militia members could face up to 20 years in prison for providing training to would-be kidnapper Adam Fox.

JACKSON, Mich. (CN) — A Michigan jury found a trio of men charged with aiding would-be kidnappers of the state’s governor guilty of gang membership, providing material support for a terrorist act and felony firearms violations Wednesday morning. 

Pete Morrison, his father-in-law Joe Musico and their fellow militiaman Paul Bellar were members of the Wolverine Watchmen, a group of so-called “boogaloo bois” who fantasized about an impending civil war and provided training to Adam Fox, one of the two major plotters in a scheme to kidnap Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer that resulted in the arrests of 14 people by federal agents. 

The jury began deliberations shortly after noon Tuesday and delivered their verdict around 10 a.m. Wednesday. Deliberations appeared to proceed without incident apart from a request for a full recording of a critical meeting the trio had with Fox, which was denied because only portions of the recording had been admitted. The issue prompted a discussion between Judge Thomas Wilson and the attorneys for both sides about how to make the recording easier for jurors to digest,

Morrison, Musico and Bellar argued throughout their three-week trial that they had been drawn into the plot by an FBI informant embedded in their ranks, Dan Chappel. Defense attorneys repeatedly raised questions of Chappel’s credibility, repeatedly citing payments made to him by the FBI and at one point engaging in a shouting match with prosecutors over Chappel’s military service record. 

Defense attorneys Kareem Johnson, Andrew Kirkpatrick and Leonard Ballard argued Chappel had tried to push their clients into working with Fox, and failed in doing so. Johnson, representing Musico, said in closing arguments that “in this country, you are allowed to talk the talk, but you only get convicted if you walk the walk.” 

Prosecutors from Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office argued that the Wolverine Watchmen had walked the walk by inviting Fox to Morrison’s property for training and talking over the plan in a secret meeting at Fox’s home in the basement of his workplace, a vacuum-repair shop called the Vac Shack.

Government attorney Sunita Doddamani argued that Musico’s oft-repeated “3 plan,” which involved apprehending politicians and law enforcement officers at their homes in the middle of the night, was a major influence on Fox’s eventual decision to plan on seizing Whitmer from her summer home. Fox, she said, had previously talked about storming the Michigan State Capitol and finding Whitmer there. 

“These three defendants had been pushing towards violence for months. They had stepped up at the [Michigan State] Capitol doors, they had provoked law enforcement,” Doddamani said. “Even if they weren’t going to go and actually do an act of terrorism themselves, they were more and willing and happy to help someone else to.”

None of the three defendants testified, and called only two witnesses between them. The bulk of the lengthy trial – extended by a Covid-19 scare throughout much of last week – involved testimony by prosecution witnesses including two FBI agents, Chappel, a number of other law enforcement officers and a gas station clerk who said that despite the group’s efforts to keep their conversations private, Morrison and Musico openly boasted about their militia and the plans to kidnap Whitmer when visiting his store. 

After the verdict was read, Kirkpatrick could be heard telling his client, Bellar, that he would “be there for you all the way to the end.” Morrison and Musico, appearing via Zoom because of a Covid-19 exposure, could both be seen holding back tears. 

Bellar was taken into the custody of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office following the verdict, and Morrison and Musico are expected to follow suit despite a plea to the judge from Ballard. The felony firearms charge, Wilson said, was sufficient on its own to warrant taking Morrison into custody. 

Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 15. Each man could face up to 20 years in prison for the material-support conviction.

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