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Two acquitted in Whitmer kidnapping trial; Jury deadlocks on charges for the other two men

Clockwise from top left; Caserta, Croft, Harris and Fox.

Two of the four men accused of conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have been acquitted of charges, while a jury said they could not reach a verdict on the other two.

That was the decision read aloud Friday in federal court in Grand Rapids in which jurors said Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta were not guilty. 

Meanwhile, because no unanimous decision could be reached against Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr., Judge Robert Jonker declared a mistrial in their cases, setting up a likely retrial for them.

All four had been charged with conspiring to kidnap Whitmer from her vacation home in northern Michigan, as well as related weapons charges.

Earlier in the day, jurors were handed a bag of pennies that they had asked to examine. The coins had been entered into evidence during the trial by prosecutors who alleged that they were intended to act like shrapnel when taped to a commercial-grade firework. 

Testimony during the trial indicated a similar homemade explosive was detonated during a training weekend in September 2020.

That was about a month before the accused plotters were arrested after authorities say they discussed raising $4,000 to purchase an explosive that would be used to blow up a bridge near Whitmer’s vacation home in order to slow police responding to the kidnapping.

Earlier in the week, the jury had also requested a definition of the word “weapon,” which Judge Jonker said was anything used to “injure, kill or destroy someone or something.”

Evidence presented during the trial indicated Fox twice traveled to northern Michigan to scout out the area around Whitmer’s second home with Croft and an undercover agent coming along on one of the trips.

Also assisting the prosecution was testimony from two other defendants, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, who earlier pleaded guilty as part of a deal. Garbin testified that the group’s goal was to cause as much disruption as possible so that President Joe Biden couldn’t defeat former President Donald Trump in 2020.

Franks backed up Garbin’s testimony, saying the men willingly entered into the plot, the goal of which was to kidnap Whitmer.

The government’s case was also bolstered by Army veteran Dan Chappel, who said he agreed to become an FBI informant after discussion among the group turned to making plans for attacking police.

Defense attorneys attacked the government’s case as being based on “smoke and mirrors” and mischaracterizing the boasting of “big talkers” 

If convicted on the kidnapping charges, the defendants could have spent the rest of their lives behind bars.

Garbin was sentenced to six years in prison in August 2021. Franks has yet to be sentenced. 

In response to the announcement, JoAnne Huls, Chief of Staff to Governor Whitmer, issued a statement thanking prosecutors and law enforcement officers for their work, adding that  the governor “remains focused on her work on behalf of Michigan and all Michiganders” including “addressing violence and threats to our democracy.” 

“Michiganders and Americans — especially our children — are living through the normalization of political violence,” Huls continued. “The plot to kidnap and kill a governor may seem like an anomaly. But we must be honest about what it really is: the result of violent, divisive rhetoric that is all too common across our country. There must be accountability and consequences for those who commit heinous crimes. Without accountability, extremists will be emboldened.”

 

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