GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A federal judge has denied motions to acquit two men accused of conspiring to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, meaning they are headed toward a retrial.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jonker issued his ruling during a Thursday hearing in Grand Rapids.
Defense attorneys for Adam Fox and Barry Croft had asked for their cases to be thrown out, arguing that the acquittal of two other men — Brandon Caserta and Daniel Harris — weakened prosecutors’ argument that a conspiracy existed and strengthened their argument that the FBI and its informants propelled the defendants’ actions, including conducting surveillance of Whitmer’s vacation home near Elk Rapids.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler pointed out that two men have already pleaded guilty to the conspiracy. He referenced evidence presented in the first trial of Fox and Croft saying they wanted to “snatch and grab” Whitmer and argued they prepared for a kidnapping, including gathering equipment and going on the surveillance trips. He also argued that a conspiracy can exist even if the defendants had not yet firmly decided on the when and how and even if their plan was not feasible.
Jonker decided that regardless of Caserta and Harris’ acquittals, a reasonable jury could go either way for Fox and Croft — either finding that they conspired to kidnap the governor and use bombs or that their actions were guided by government agents or informants. The bottom line, the judge said, was that another jury needs to weigh the evidence and arguments.
The court is looking at a mid-August retrial for Fox and Croft, though that has not yet been set in stone. Kessler suggested it would last about two weeks. He said his team has gone through the 400 pieces of evidence seen in the first trial and removed those that focused solely on Caserta and Harris, narrowing it to about 285.
Federal authorities allege Fox, Croft and other militia members plotted to kidnap Whitmer because they were angry over her executive orders meant to slow the spread of coronavirus. The suspects were arrested in October 2020. Six were charged federally and several more at the state level. Two of the suspects facing federal charges ultimately pleaded guilty and testified against the others at trial earlier this year.
The jury in the first weekslong trial deliberated for 37 hours over the course of a week before acquitting Caserta and Harris on April 8 and deadlocking on Croft and Fox.