EXPLAINER: What’s known about jurors at kidnap-plot trial?

March 26, 2022 GMT
The exterior of the federal courthouse is shown March 9, 2022, in Grand Rapids, Mich. The trial of four men charged with planning to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is taking place inside. (AP Photo/Mike Householder)
The exterior of the federal courthouse is shown March 9, 2022, in Grand Rapids, Mich. The trial of four men charged with planning to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is taking place inside. (AP Photo/Mike Householder)
The exterior of the federal courthouse is shown March 9, 2022, in Grand Rapids, Mich. The trial of four men charged with planning to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is taking place inside. (AP Photo/Mike Householder)
The exterior of the federal courthouse is shown March 9, 2022, in Grand Rapids, Mich. The trial of four men charged with planning to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is taking place inside. (AP Photo/Mike Householder)
The exterior of the federal courthouse is shown March 9, 2022, in Grand Rapids, Mich. The trial of four men charged with planning to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is taking place inside. (AP Photo/Mike Householder)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — A foster care director, a plastics plant manager and an IT employee are among the 12 jurors and four alternates hearing testimony at the trial of four men charged with plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020.

As a security precaution, U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker in Grand Rapids allowed only attorneys to see jurors’ names and their written questionnaires. But jurors — referred to in court by assigned numbers — discussed their backgrounds during the public portion of jury selection.

Here’s a look at the jurors and what they said:

WHAT JOBS DO THE JURORS HOLD?

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Not all mentioned their professions. Among those who did was Juror No. 163, who is a casino compliance officer. Juror No. 227 is a project manager at a printing company. Juror No. 69, said she is a retiree who ran a sewing business.

The foster care director is Juror No. 211, the IT employee is No. 115 and the plastics plant manager is No. 201.

HAD JURORS HEARD OF THE CASE?

All said they had heard at least something. Knowledge of the case wasn’t an automatic disqualification, but those who said they do not obsessively follow the news were more likely to make it onto the jury.

Asked if he monitors the news, the IT employee responded, “I ignore it.” Juror No. 14 told the judge she never follows the news. And Juror No. 169 described herself as a “news junkie,” but added she typically just reads headlines.

One prospective juror said he had followed the case closely, adding, “I think they’re guilty.” He was dismissed. So was someone who said he had heard co-workers “rooting for” the defendants.

WHAT ABOUT THEIR POLITICS?

Jurors who said they didn’t have strong political opinions or feelings about Whitmer were more likely to be impaneled.

Juror No. 14 told the judge she “doesn’t get into politics,” while Juror No. 161 said she was “middle of the road, politically.” The retiree said her husband was more opinionated than she on politics but that she could “put him on mute” for the duration of the trial.

Several members of the pool were dismissed after saying they disliked Whitmer. So was one woman who described herself as a fan of the governor. A man who said he didn’t “trust the government” was also let go.

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The pool of 50-plus juror candidates were drawn from a 22-county region of western Michigan that is largely rural, Republican and conservative.

The judge didn’t ask candidates about former President Donald Trump. The defendants are accused of hatching their plot in 2020 as Whitmer was trading taunts with Trump over pandemic restrictions. She later said Trump was complicit in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

WHAT ABOUT GUNS?

Jonker asked would-be jurors if they owned guns, apparently to glean if any harbored strong biases against firearms. Some trial evidence includes photos of the defendants with legally owned guns.

When he asked some 20 prospective jurors how many owned guns, nearly all raised their hands.

Juror No. 69, the retiree, later said there were no guns in her home but that she doesn’t have a problem with them. The plastics plant manager was among those who said he owned multiple weapons, including an assault-type rifle.

WHAT ABOUT JURY DEMOGRAPHICS?

Ten jurors are women. Six are men. The court declined to release information on their races. The court district is predominantly white.

CAN ANYTHING BE READ INTO JUROR DEMEANORS?

Jurors sometimes appeared fully engaged, taking extensive notes. But as testimony turned to hard-to-follow details, some set their notebooks aside and sunk into their chairs.

Jonker apparently recognized jurors were struggling to stay engaged Monday and gave them a pep talk.

“It can become … drudgery,” he said about the level of detail at the trial. He explained that prosecutors and defense counsel were laying “bricks and mortar” and that it would become clear later where the details fit into their competing narratives.

Jurors sit facing the defendants. The judge ordered that bunting be hung from the defense tables to conceal the defendants’ leg restraints after their lawyers said the sight of the restraints could lead jurors to conclude the men are dangerous and influence the verdict.

WHAT ELSE HAS THE JUDGE TOLD JURORS?

During jury selection, he said this wasn’t “a run of the mill case” and that it would require extra effort and time to ensure the trial was “done fairly.”

One person in the pool, a professional glass blower, shook his head when the judge said the trial could last six weeks. He was dismissed. So was a long-haul truck driver who complained he was losing $2,000 just by reporting for jury duty.

WAS ANYONE DISMISSED AFTER THE TRIAL BEGAN?

Juror No. 143, the only juror who expressed excitement about getting onto the jury, was let go two weeks into testimony. He had come down with a stomach bug, the judge said. Earlier, Juror No. 162 was dismissed after calling in sick. Four alternates remain.

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Find AP’s full coverage of the Whitmer kidnap plot trial at: https://apnews.com/hub/whitmer-kidnap-plot-trial

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Associated Press reporters John Flesher in Traverse City, Michigan, and Ed White in Detroit contributed to this story.