Third Whitmer kidnapping trial starts

Three men are accused of providing material aid to people convicted of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020.

Updated: October 3, 2022 - 11:01pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Jury selection started Monday for three men accused of providing material aid to people convicted of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020.

Joe Morrison, father-in-law Pete Musico and Paul Bellar are facing trial in Jackson County. The men are charged with gang membership and providing material support for terrorist acts, which each carry a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. They also face felony gun charges.

Court records say Morrison started the Wolverine Watchmen group via a Facebook page on Nov. 25, 2020. The state says this augmented to an alliance including alleged ringleaders Adam Fox and Barry Croft, who in August were convicted on federal charges of kidnapping conspiracy and conspiring to obtain and use weapons of mass destruction.

Two others, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, pleaded guilty in federal court, and two other men were acquitted.

Federal agents were embedded in the Wolverine Watchmen and monitored encrypted chats, social media feeds, and more communications between the men arrested two years ago.

Court documents say Fox and associates attended a Wolverine Watchmen tactical training in Munith on June 28, 2020, where Bellar provided medical combat training to Fox and others.

The three men were arrested in October 2020. Federal law enforcement say they were part of a larger group of at least 12 people who, angry over COVID-19 restrictions, targeted law enforcement officers, and planned to attack the state Capitol building.

The defense says the three men left the group before the kidnap plot advanced in August of 2020.

In the federal trial, FBI missteps dogged the most high-profile domestic terrorism case of the decade. The FBI fired its lead agent after he was convicted of domestic abuse, and it convicted another alleged informant-turned-double-agent.

Prosecutors allege another informant – who was paid nearly $20,000 – turned “double agent,” disobeyed FBI rules by illegally purchasing a firearm, undermined the investigation, offered to use a drone to commit domestic terrorism, and warned one of the alleged plotters before an arrest.

In August, Judge Thomas Wilson of the Fourth Circuit Court in Jackson County granted motions filed by Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office to preclude inadmissible evidence about FBI agents, add admissible co-conspirator statements, and prohibit defendants from asking FBI Special Agent Henrik Impola at trial about his alleged perjury in a separate case, which the government says is an inaccurate accusation.

The jury must decide whether hosting militia training at one’s property equates to providing material support to terrorists, among other things. The trial will be live-streamed.

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