Defense attorneys on Friday tried to blunt the testimony of a man who said he plotted to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, getting him to admit that after his arrest he had referred to the group as a “bunch of jokers” just playing roles.
But Kaleb Franks, who pleaded guilty in February, said he had lied to the FBI because he feared going to jail for his part in a staggering scheme to grab Whitmer from her vacation home in northern Michigan just before the 2020 national election.
Franks said he was hoping that “LARPing” — live-action role playing — would “explain the firearms ... all the stuff that was a part of the crime."
“If you were LARPing, would you have pled guilty?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Roth asked.
“No,” Franks replied.
He testified on the 10th day of trial for four men charged with conspiring to kidnap Whitmer: Adam Fox, Barry Croft Jr., Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta. Franks agreed to cooperate with prosecutors with the hope of getting a lighter sentence in June.
He said Fox believed Whitmer’s COVID-19 restrictions were “tyrannical” and that the U.S. Constitution gave the men a right to strike back. Earlier in the week, another man who pleaded guilty, Ty Garbin, said a kidnapping could ignite a U.S. civil war involving antigovernment groups and possibly prevent the election of Joe Biden.
Franks' main testimony occurred Thursday in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He described training in summer 2020 for an eventual assault on Whitmer's second home in Elk Rapids, reinforcing testimony earlier in the week from Garbin, the first person to plead guilty.
“I was going to be an operator,” Franks said. “I would be one of the people on the front line, so to speak, using my gun.”
He said he stayed with the group because he was depressed and had hoped he would be killed in a shootout with police.
Defense attorneys on Friday tried to trip Franks up by highlighting inconsistencies.
“Your testimony from the last couple days has been, ‘These guys were serious.’ That's not what you said to the FBI when you were arrested,” Croft lawyer Joshua Blanchard said. “You referred to the group as a whole as a bunch of jokers, that they're LARPing. ... When we use that term we're referring to people who go to the comic con to dress up as Pokemon."
Franks acknowledged telling investigators that Fox, described as the leader, was regularly egged on by a man who turned out to be an FBI informant secretly recording conversations for months. It conflicted with his earlier remarks that Dan Chappel didn’t try to steer the group.
“I was untruthful in that interview because I was trying not to go to jail,” Franks told the jury.
He also acknowledged a heroin problem and that he had illegally used an opiate substitute while in custody in the case.
Defense attorneys are trying to show the jury that there was no credible plot, just a lot of profane, violent and crazy talk about Whitmer and other politicians trampling their rights during the pandemic.
The jury was sent home about 50 minutes early Friday because a government witness hadn't arrived yet. U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker was unhappy.
“This drives me nuts. ... Please, don't let this happen again,” he told prosecutors.
Whitmer, a Democrat, rarely talks publicly about the case, though she referred to “surprises” during her term that seem 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. Whitmer has said Trump was complicit in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Find AP’s full coverage of the Whitmer kidnap plot trial at: https://apnews.com/hub/whitmer-kidnap-plot-trial
White reported from Detroit.