2 acquitted, mistrial declared for 2 others in Whitmer kidnap plot trial

Deliberations began April 4

FILE - This combo shows booking photos of, from left, Barry Croft, Daniel Harris, Adam Fox and Brandon Caserta. Jurors are deliberating on verdicts following testimony at the trial of the four men accused of plotting to abduct Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020. Jury selection begins Tuesday, April 5, 2022 in a trial that could last more than a month in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Kent County Sheriff and Delaware Department of Justice via AP, File) (Uncredited)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – A jury in the trial against four men charged with plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has returned a mixed verdict.

The jury found Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta not guilty on all charges, and were unable to reach a verdict in the charges against Adam Fox and Barry Croft, resulting in a mistrial. Fox and Croft can be tried again.

The verdict was read in federal court in Grand Rapids on Friday afternoon. The jury started deliberations on Monday.

There were 10 charges in the case: one against Brandon Caserta, two against Adam Fox, three against Barry Croft Jr. and four against Daniel Harris. The men all faced the main charge of a kidnapping conspiracy; the other counts are related to explosives and a firearm.

More: 2 acquitted, jury hung on 2 more in Whitmer kidnap plot

Joseph Morrison, Pete Musico and Paul Bellar are also facing charges in connection with the plot to kidnap Whitmer. There is a pretrial examination scheduled for August and a trial date set for September.

JoAnne Huls, Chief of Staff to Governor Gretchen Whitmer, issued the following statement in response to today’s outcome:

“Today, Michiganders and Americans—especially our children—are living through the normalization of political violence. 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.

“The governor remains focused on her work on behalf of Michigan and all Michiganders. That includes addressing violence and threats to our democracy. We appreciate the prosecutors and law enforcement officers for their work on this case.”

Local 4′s Shawn Ley is in Grand Rapids -- here was his live report after the verdict was announced:

A jury in the trial against four men charged with plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has returned a mixed verdict. The jury found Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta not guilty on all charges, and were unable to reach a verdict in the charges against Adam Fox and Barry Croft, resulting in a mistrial.

Timeline of trial against Fox, Harris, Caserta and Croft

If you’d like to know more about the investigation leading up to the trial, you can click here to view a timeline of the scheme to kidnap Whitmer and hold her hostage. This previous timeline lists everything we learned that happened between the dates of June 6, 2020 until Oct. 7, 2020. The timeline below is everything that happened after that and only related to the trial of Fox, Harris, Caserta and Croft.

FILE - This combination of photos provided by the Kent County Sheriff and the Delaware Department of Justice shows, top row from left, Brandon Caserta and Barry Croft; and bottom row from left, Adam Dean Fox and Daniel Harris. The four members of anti-government groups are facing trial in March 2022 on federal charges accusing them in a plot to abduct Michigan's Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020. Jury selection begins Tuesday, March 8, 2022, in a trial the presiding judge at the U.S. District Court courthouse in Grand Rapids, Mich., said could take over a month. (Kent County Sheriff, Delaware Department of Justice via AP File)

Oct. 13, 2020: FBI testifies in case against men accused in domestic terror plot

An FBI agent testified in court that the accused leader of the domestic terror plot wanted to leave Whitmer in the middle of Lake Michigan after kidnapping her. Fox was one of five men in court that day facing charges of conspiring to kidnap Whitmer. Garbin, Harris, Franks and Caserta also appeared in court.

FBI Special Agent Richard Trask said he personally interviewed Fox when the men were arrested Oct. 7. He said the men had inspected a boat ramp while plotting to kidnap Whitmer, “to be able to get a boat and take the governor out on the boat, leaving the area.” Trask said Fox told him his plan was to take Whitmer out onto the boat and leave her in the middle of Lake Michigan.

Oct. 14, 2020: Five suspects appear in federal court; Six charged

Fox, Garbin, Franks, Harris, Caserta appeared in federal court to face charges. Croft was in Delaware and being transported to Michigan. Local 4 found that Whitmer was aware of the threats, but did not know the extend of them until it was revealed to the public.

Oct. 16, 2020: Defense tries to cast doubt on if men actually planned to go through with kidnapping

Ty Garbin was the center of Friday morning’s hearing. At this point, Garbin is accused of plotting to launch terror attacks and then kidnap or kill Whitmer. An FBI agent took the stand and answered questions asked by Garbin’s attorney. A judge ruled there was enough evidence to bind Fox, Garbin, Franks, Harris and Caserta over for trial.

Also on Oct. 16, 2020, a 14th man was charged with conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer. Brian Higgins, 51, of Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, was charged with material support of an act of terrorism, a 20-year felony.

Jan. 27, 2021: Prosecutors get first guilty plea, this one from Ty Garbin

Garbin admitted in federal court to training and preparing others in the domestic terrorism plot to kidnap Whitmer. He pleaded guilty to an indictment that charges him with kidnapping conspiracy. He also agreed to cooperate with prosecutors as the case continues. He was the first to plead guilty. Because he pleaded guilty, a weapons of mass destruction charge was dropped. That charge could have resulted in a life sentence for Garbin. Click here to read 19 details inside his guilty plea.

Aug. 12, 2021: Defense argues FBI informants encouraged violent plot

Fox’s defense argued that the plot to kidnap Whitmer was not his idea. Fox said he was set up and that the FBI’s paid informants hatched the plot to kidnap Whitmer. Local 4 Defenders obtained court documents in which Fox said the ideas were “planted” in his head and the heads of others.

Aug. 18, 2021: Feds say Ty Garbin deserves credit for agreeing to testify for prosecution

Federal prosecutors recommended a 9-year sentence for Garbin after he pleaded guilty in the plot. Federal officials said Garbin deserves credit for assisting investigators in making cases against the other five men charged in federal court.

Aug. 25, 2021: Ty Garbin sentenced to 6 1/4 years in prison

Garbin was sentenced to more than six years in prison. He was also required to pay a $2,500 fine.

Dec. 25, 2021: Motion seeks indictment dismissal for 5 charged

A motion was filed on behalf of Fox, Croft, Franks, Harris and Caserta, requesting the superseding indictment against the men be dismissed due to “government overreaching and misconduct.” Much like claims made in court documents in August, the attorneys argued Saturday that paid undercover FBI informants who assisted with the case were actually the ones who suggested and encouraged kidnapping the governor, and not those charged.

Feb. 9, 2022: Prosecutors get second guilty plea, this one from Kaleb Franks

Franks answered questions as he pleaded guilty in federal court. Franks told the judge he joined the group Wolverine Watchmen and began using encrypted apps and code words to conceal their messages from law enforcement. He said he knew what they were planning and discussing was illegal.

March 8, 2022: Jury selected for trial of Fox, Harris, Caserta and Croft accused in plot

A jury was selected. The four men are facing the potential for life in prison if convicted.

March 9, 2022: Opening statements, first testimony heard

Opening statements and first testimony were given in the trial. Local 4 learned what prosecutors say the four men planned to do right after capturing Whitmer. Federal prosecutors called Fox a key leader of the group.

March 10, 2022: ‘I want to hurt people’: Recordings played in court

Prosecutors played secretly recorded audio for jurors in a Grand Rapids courtroom.

March 11, 2022 - March 16, 2022: COVID-19 causes delays in trial

The trial didn’t resume as scheduled after someone tested positive for COVID. The trial resumed on March 17.

March 17, 2022: Undercover FBI informant testifies in court

For the first time, an undercover FBI informant testified in court. The undercover informant was wired for sound and the recorder never stopped rolling. They captured audio of Fox talking about his ideas about what kidnapping Whitmer would mean to other people in power.

March 18, 2022: More recordings played: ‘If we can’t have our world, they can’t have theirs’

Messages and recordings of the members of the Wolverine Watchmen militia were played for the jury. An informant for the FBI testified on Friday. The informant joined the group initially, but turned on them after the talk turned to killing police officers.

He gave a detailed breakdown of the conversations, messages and planning that led them to target Whitmer’s lake house with guns and explosives. The prosecution’s key informant detailing the inner-workings of the plan to kidnap Whitmer using realtor apps and Google maps to find her house.

March 21, 2022: Text: When’s ‘lynching?’ Michigan governor plot leader said

A man described as the leader of a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asked “when’s the lynching?” after the state Supreme Court in 2020 struck down a law that she repeatedly used to impose restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to evidence introduced Monday.

The disclosure came near the end of the first phase of testimony by a key government witness in the trial of four men. Defense attorneys then took over the questioning of Dan Chappel, who was challenged about what he said and did during months of covert work for the FBI.

March 23: 2022: Ty Garbin testifies against 4 men

As part of Garbin’s guilty plea to a lesser charge, he testified about the men he allegedly plotted with to kidnap Whitmer with. On direct examination, Garbin told jurors the plot to kidnap Whitmer was to be the event that started a second civil war.

March 24, 2022: Video of man accused in Whitmer kidnapping plot shown in trial

Video evidence was shown in court that accused Caserta of vowing to shoot and kill police.

“If we’re doing a recon or something and we come up on some of them, dude. You better not give them a chance. You either tell them to go right now, or else they’re gonna die. Period,” Caserta said.

Garbin testified that he made untraceable ghost guns and tried to make explosives

March 25, 2022: Judge says attorneys should be more interesting after juror falls asleep

A juror fell asleep during the trial. The judge said the remedy for that is for both sides, the prosecution and defense, to be more interesting. The judge was unhappy with the prosecution, and said they were inefficient. He has been unhappy with defense attorneys for long questioning.

FBI also raided a home in Hazel Park after they said someone made death threats toward attorneys and the judge in the Whitmer kidnapping plot trial.

March 28, 2022: Informant says suspect wanted to use Napalm

An undercover agent known as “Red” took the stand. He attended a trip to Elk Rapids in the summer of 2020. Red recorded conversations that were had inside his truck as he drove the defendants around the Elk Rapids area.

On Monday, he testified that Croft wanted to use Napalm, a military-grade highly flammable substance, to burn Whitmer’s summer home in Elk Rapids during a siege on her home to kidnap her.

March 29, 2022: Prosecution reveals weapons found in Croft’s home

Shotguns, pistols, and a host of explosives were presented as evidence. Those weapons allegedly belonged to Croft. He is a self-proclaimed anti-government domestic terrorist. The defense argued that those weapons are legal to own.

March 30: 2022: Prosecutors rest their case

A longtime companion of Croft testified before prosecutors rested their case. Chastity Knight spoke to jurors on the 13th day of trial in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She was asked about Croft’s tattoos, including one with three stars -- popular among extremists -- and his attitude toward government.

March 31, 2022: Defense rests their case after heated day in court

Defense attorneys quickly rested their case Thursday after Harris said “absolutely not” when asked if he had agreed to abduct her before the 2020 election. Harris was the only defendant to speak to jurors on the 14th day of trial. It was a risky, dramatic shift following days of testimony from undercover FBI agents, a gutsy informant and two men who have pleaded guilty and pointed fingers at the rest.

April 1, 2022: Prosecutors urge jury to convict

The jury picked a leader Friday and went home for the weekend, following hours of closing arguments from lawyers on the 15th day of trial.

April 4, 2022: Jury deliberations underway

Jury deliberations were underway on Monday. Jurors were sent home Monday night without a verdict. 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.”

April 5, 2022: Second day of deliberations

As the jury deliberated deep into the day, part of the testimony under consideration was from the leader of the Wolverine Watchmen, Ty Garbin. He pleaded guilty and revealed everything he knew about the plot during the trial.

April 6, 2022: Jury deliberations enter 3rd day

Jurors deliberated for a third day.

April 7, 2022: Jury ends 4th day of deliberations

The jury ended its fourth day of deliberations Thursday and said it wants to look at evidence related to an explosive when it resumes its work. The jury gave no signal to the judge that it’s struggling to reach decisions about the defendants: Adam Fox, Barry Croft Jr., Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta.

April 8, 2022: 2 acquitted, mistrial declared for 2 others

The jury found Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta not guilty on all charges, and were unable to reach a verdict in the charges against Adam Fox and Barry Croft, resulting in a mistrial. Fox and Croft can be tried again.

Click here to view complete coverage of the Whitmer kidnapping plot.

Joseph Morrison, Pete Musico and Paul Bellar are also facing charges in connection with the plot to kidnap Whitmer. There is a pretrial examination scheduled for August and a trial date set for September.

About the Authors:

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.

Ken Haddad is the digital content and audience manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013. He enjoys suffering through Lions games on Sundays in the fall.