GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Jurors returned to court to ask a question Monday but offered no verdict during the first day of deliberations in the trial of four men accused of conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker told jurors to "find a good distraction," maybe the NCAA men's basketball championship, and return Tuesday "ready to engage, fresh."
Adam Fox, Barry Croft Jr., Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta are charged with a kidnapping conspiracy. Three men also face additional charges, including conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, namely an explosive.
The jury asked the judge for a definition of "weapon" at mid-afternoon Monday, but otherwise gave no indication of the progress of deliberations.
"Something that can be used to injure, kill or destroy someone or something," Jonker said after consulting with prosecutors and defense lawyers. "So if that helps — I hope — great. If it doesn't, just let us know."
The trial has lasted 16 days, including 13 days of testimony. The jury heard hours of closing arguments and instructions Friday.
Jonker last week told jurors that the men could be convicted of conspiracy, even if a kidnapping did not occur in fall 2020.
A key factor, if the jury finds it, would be a "mutual understanding either spoken or unspoken" between two or more people in the group, the judge said.
Prosecutors said the plot was simmering for months, leavened by anti-government extremism and anger over Whitmer's COVID-19 restrictions. With undercover FBI agents and informants embedded in the group, the men trained with a crudely built "shoot house" to replicate her vacation home, prosecutors allege.
There is no dispute that the alleged leaders, Fox and Croft, traveled to Elk Rapids, Michigan, to scout the governor's property and a nearby bridge that same weekend in September 2020.
Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, who pleaded guilty and testified against the four men, were on the same road trip, along with covert investigators.
Garbin said the goal was to get Whitmer before the fall election and create enough chaos to create a civil war and stop Joe Biden from winning the presidency. Much of the government's case came from secretly recorded conversations, group messages and social media posts.
"You heard them in their own voices over and over again," Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler told jurors, "talking about kidnapping her, murdering her, blowing up bridges and people and anybody who could get in their way. And it wasn't just talk."
The men were arrested in October 2020.
Defense lawyers, especially those representing Fox and Croft, attacked the government's investigation and the use of a crucial informant, Dan Chappel. They claimed Chappel was the real leader, taking direction from the FBI and keeping the group on edge while recording them for months.
"Dan Chappel makes everything happen," attorney Christopher Gibbons said in his closing remarks.
Attorney Joshua Blanchard repeatedly called the scheme "smoke and mirrors."
"There was no plan. There was no agreement," he said.
Croft is from Bear, Delaware, while the others are from Michigan.
Whitmer, a Democrat, rarely talks publicly about the plot, though she referred to "surprises" during her term that seemed like "something out of fiction" when she filed for reelection on March 17.
She has blamed former President Donald Trump for fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn right-wing extremists like those charged in the case.
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