Spring break could affect jury pool in Whitmer kidnap trial
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Spring break could affect the makeup of the jury in the upcoming trial of four men accused of conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a judge said Friday.
U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker held a final housekeeping hearing ahead of the March 8 trial in federal court in Grand Rapids.
The trial could last four to five weeks and run into the spring break of schools in western Michigan. Jonker said he’s not likely to keep someone with travel plans in the jury pool, which means there could be fewer people with school-age children to consider.
“I’m inclined to be fairly generous in excusing people,” the judge said, citing other reasons, too, including political opinions.
Adam Fox, Barry Croft Jr., Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta are charged with plotting to kidnap the Democratic governor in 2020 through meetings, encrypted communications, firearms training and a road trip to explore around her vacation home. Two other men have pleaded guilty.
The FBI, which had infiltrated the group, arrested the six in October 2020.
The alleged conspiracy occurred at a time when critics were enraged over Whitmer’s restrictive policies and stay-home orders during the early stretch of the COVID-19 pandemic, even protesting at the state Capitol while carrying semiautomatic weapons.
Defense lawyers insist the men were entrapped and were not inclined to target Whitmer without that influence.
They were “groomed” by informants and undercover agents, “like music producers seeking out young, talented, musicians that can be combined into a money-making act,” Fox’s attorney, Christopher Gibbons, said in a court filing Thursday.
But the two men who pleaded guilty, Kaleb Franks and Ty Garbin, said they will tell jurors that no arms were twisted.
The judge asked if Whitmer, as the alleged victim, planned to attend the trial. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler said it was doubtful but that he would inform the court.
“No, the governor does not plan to attend,” Bobby Leddy, Whitmer’s press secretary said in a text message to The Associated Press after the hearing. “Governor Whitmer thanks local, state, and federal law enforcement for their heroic actions to keep her and her family safe.”
When arrests were made, Whitmer pinned some blame on then-President Donald Trump, saying his refusal to denounce far-right groups had inspired extremists across the country. Trump had earlier urged supporters to “LIBERATE” Michigan and two other states led by Democratic governors from stay-home orders.
White reported from Detroit. Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.