Michigan governor kidnap plot jury ends first day of deliberations

FILE PHOTO: Michigan Governor Whitmer visits the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan
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By Tyler Clifford

(Reuters) -A jury on Monday ended the first day of deliberations in the retrial of two men charged with conspiring to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020, one of the prominent cases involving militias and domestic terrorism charges in recent years.

Adam Fox, 39, and Barry Croft Jr., 46, face the possibility of life in prison if convicted of kidnapping and weapons conspiracy charges in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Prosecutors accused the men of devising an elaborate plot to kidnap Whitmer, a Democrat, though the defense claimed they were engaged merely in idle chatter.

A mistrial was declared in their first trial in April, while two other defendants were found not guilty in one of the most prominent cases in years involving domestic terrorism charges and militias.

In the retrial, prosecutors again used testimony from FBI informants and two key witnesses who pleaded guilty to kidnapping conspiracy charges.

The alleged plot by Croft and Fox was aimed at forcing an end to the governor's mandates in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic and pushing the country into open conflict as a contentious presidential election approached in November 2020, according to prosecutors.

"They wanted to set off a second American Civil War and a second American Revolution," Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler told jurors during closing arguments on Monday.

"They didn’t want to just kidnap her," Kessler said, referring to Whitmer. "They wanted to execute her."

Fox compiled a list of tools, including handcuffs and a hood to cover Whitmer’s head, for the alleged plot, prosecutors said. Additionally, a makeshift house was built to simulate breaking in to the governor's vacation home in northern Michigan and abducting her, prosecutors said, according to the Detroit News.

In their closing arguments, attorneys for Croft and Fox told jurors that the government sought to entrap the defendants. They said their clients committed no crimes and criticized the use of FBI informants in the case, the Detroit News reported.

"The FBI should not exist to make people look like terrorists when they aren't," Joshua Blanchard, an attorney for Croft, told jurors.

Croft is also charged with possession of an explosive device, which prosecutors say the alleged conspirators planned to use during the plot.

The two are among 13 men who were arrested in October 2020 and charged with state or federal crimes in the alleged kidnapping conspiracy. Seven of them are facing charges in state court.

(Reporting by Tyler Clifford in New YorkEditing by Matthew Lewis)