(AP) — Two men charged with conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 were very eager to move forward and fully onboard with the plan, two key witnesses testified Wednesday.
The witnesses, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, are vital for the government’s case because they, too, were arrested but pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate.
Garbin and Franks downplayed the influence of two FBI informants who trained with the group. They didn’t know their real roles at the time but said they couldn’t recall the operatives proposing that Whitmer should be kidnapped.
“Not that I saw, no,” Garbin told jurors in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr. are on trial for a second time on conspiracy charges. A jury in April couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict but acquitted two other men.
Tension between two defense lawyers and the judge emerged when the lawyers were each limited to 25 minutes to cross-examine Franks. With the jury gone for the day, Joshua Blanchard said the cap was unconstitutional, particularly because Fox and Croft face possible life sentences if convicted and there were no restrictions on prosecutors.
“This isn’t dragging on,” Blanchard said at the end of the trial’s seventh day.
“The court has been interjecting in the defense case,” he added. “It has not been interjecting in the government’s case. And it’s creating a perception, I think, among the jurors that the court has a preference for how this case ends.”
U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker defended his decision, saying there was no need for certain questions to be “teed up over and over again.” He complained about the trial’s pace last week.
Earlier Wednesday, the jury heard from Garbin and Franks, who said they freely joined the conspiracy to get Whitmer and weren’t swayed by undercover FBI agents or informants.
They said they trained with Fox, Croft and others in a remote area, practicing inside a “shoot house” to simulate a kidnapping. They described how the group traveled to Elk Rapids at night to see Whitmer’s vacation home and a bridge that could be blown up to distract police during an attack.
“They were full in,” Franks testified. “Every time I spent time with them that’s what they talked about.”
Garbin offered a similar response during his turn: Fox and Croft, he said, were “very eager to continue forward with it.”
Prosecutors say the group wanted to trigger a national revolt. The government said disgust over COVID-19 restrictions inspired Fox and Croft to make kidnapping plans. Defense lawyers, however, argue that agents entrapped their clients and created the scheme.
Garbin said he and Fox were at a gun rights rally at the Michigan Capitol in June 2020, months before their arrest.
“Adam Fox had mentioned storming the Capitol building and arresting elected officials and holding them on trial for their crimes and treason,” Garbin said. “(A) particular elected official would be Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Hang her on public TV for the world to see.”
The defense questioned Garbin and Franks about their guilty pleas, getting them to acknowledge that they hoped for a break at sentencing. Garbin, whom Blanchard labeled a “snitch,” has been sentenced to six years in prison but could get a further reduction.
“Nobody has asked me to lie. They’ve only asked me to tell the truth,” Franks said.
Franks admitted that he didn’t like Fox. He also testified that he was depressed in 2020 and had hoped to be killed by police during the kidnapping. Defense attorney Christopher Gibbons doubted the story.
“You could have just stayed at your home, put on ‘Wheel of Fortune’ and gotten a pistol, right?” Gibbons said of a suicide. “But you chose to do this with a plan that involved kidnapping the governor on an unknown date, a plan that doesn’t work, correct? Do you even know what the plan is when you’re up there?”
Croft, 46, is from Bear, Delaware. Fox, 39, was living in the basement of a vacuum shop in the Grand Rapids area.
Whitmer, a Democrat, has blamed then-President Donald Trump for stoking mistrust and fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn hate groups and right-wing extremists like those charged in the plot.
Trump recently called the kidnapping plan a “fake deal.”