Judge throws out entrapment argument in Michigan Gov. Whitmer kidnap plot case

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After two days of arguments and testimony, a Jackson County judge ruled Tuesday that three men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer were not entrapped by law enforcement, clearing the way for the case to go to trial.

The trio — Pete Musico, 44; his son-in-law, Joseph Morrison, 27, and Paul Bellar, 23, who have been accused of supporting terrorism, gang membership and carrying a firearm in the commission of a felony — claim they were duped.

Court documents show the suspects met twice in Ohio, once on June 6 in Dublin and again at another undisclosed Ohio location on July 18. The meetings were secretly recorded by a paid FBI informant.

But Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wilson said he found no evidence that the government pressured or targeted the defendants, nor did a key act to escalate the case.

"I just cannot, in reviewing this matter, find that the government somehow pressured any one of these individuals to participate in anything or to get in line in this way of thinking," Wilson said. "That was the very reason we got the confidential informant in the very beginning, as soon as he joined the group and learned that they were talking about harming police officers and potentially politicians."

More: Accused ringleader in Whitmer kidnap case: I was high on pot during secret FBI meetings

More: Prosecutors: Man charged in U.S. Capitol attack has ties to Whitmer kidnap plotters

Judge Thomas Wilson listens to the first witness, FBI agent Henrik Impola testify during the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping plot at the Jackson County Circuit Court in Jackson on Feb. 23, 2022.
Judge Thomas Wilson listens to the first witness, FBI agent Henrik Impola testify during the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping plot at the Jackson County Circuit Court in Jackson on Feb. 23, 2022.

The defendants are among 14 men charged in state and federal courts of targeting the governor because they disagreed with her early COVID-19 mandates.

Wilson seemed to hint Monday at how he was leaning. From the bench, // he // said he questioned whether many of the defense questions were relevant to their entrapment argument.

Defense lawyers sought to portray the 34-year-old paid informant — who went by just Dan and Thor — who testified Monday as someone to whom the defendants were friends with, looked up to and helped organize the group.

The defense lawyers reiterated that Dan provided training to the group using his military background, but he said he never taught anything other than what one could find on YouTube.

When asked directly by the defense whether Dan played a part in the plot, he said no, his role was to offer access to the FBI. In fact, Dan testified later that he frequently de-escalated situations and prevented potential violence.

(L to R) Nicholas Somberg, attorney for Joseph Morrison, talks to his client as Paul Bellar and Pete Musico listen in the courtroom of Judge Thomas Wilson at the Jackson County Circuit Court in Jackson on Feb. 23, 2022. All three were in court during a hearing about the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping plot they were allegedly involved in.
(L to R) Nicholas Somberg, attorney for Joseph Morrison, talks to his client as Paul Bellar and Pete Musico listen in the courtroom of Judge Thomas Wilson at the Jackson County Circuit Court in Jackson on Feb. 23, 2022. All three were in court during a hearing about the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping plot they were allegedly involved in.

Assistant Attorney General Sunita Doddamani added during Monday's hearing that no government agent or informant pressured or coerced anybody, and the defendants intended to commit acts of violence even before they met the informant.

Kareem Johnson, Musico's lawyer, tried to show that Dan had a role in bringing Adam Fox, the alleged ringleader of the plot and a federal defendant, into their secure Wire app chat during the hearing.

However, Wilson said the defendants, particularly Morrison and Musico, had a clear desire to connect with Fox to start the boogaloo.

Still, while the entrapment argument didn't pass legal muster, it's possible that if the case goes to trial, the defense will continue to argue that government agents and informants did more than report what they saw and had a hand in making it happen.

Free Press staff writer Darcie Moran contributed to this report.

Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or fwitsil@freepress.com.

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Men not entrapped in Gov. Whitmer kidnap plot case, judge says