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Criminal Justice & Legal System

Jury gets case of 4 men charged in Gov. Whitmer kidnap plot

Defendants and Judge Robert Jonker
Carole Kabrin
/
For Michigan Radio
Defendants appear in front of Judge Robert Jonker in federal court in Grand Rapids.

Jurors have heard closing arguments and will begin deliberations Monday in the trial of four men charged with conspiring to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The jury decided to start fresh next week rather than begin discussing the case Friday afternoon.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler summed up the evidence on the 15th day of trial. He traced the group's secretly recorded words as well as testimony from agents, an informant and two star witnesses who pleaded guilty.

Kessler said the discussions the group held extended far beyond protected free speech and into the territory of criminal conspiracy.

He preemptively responded to arguments he expected to hear from defense attorneys in their closing statements. The defense had been building a case that the accused men had no intention of actually carrying out the plans they discussed.

"Remember just one word," Kessler told the jury. "OpSec."

That's a reference to operational security, which Kessler said the group took seriously, using encrypted messaging in an effort to avoid infiltration by law enforcement.

Prosecutors said the alleged criminal plans "originated with the defendants."

Kessler recalled testimony that government agents paid for some of the expenses incurred when the defendants met, allegedly to hash out their plot. That's not inducement to commit a crime, he told the jury, alluding to the defense's claim their clients were entrapped.

"Ask yourself: Would you kidnap somebody because they picked up the hotel room or the lunch tab?" Kessler said.

Defense attorneys put a harsher spin on the evidence. They said there was no agreement to kidnap Whitmer and that the four men were manipulated by rogue investigators.

They painted a picture of overzealous law enforcement agents who led the men into a plot they would not have pursued on their own.

The defense team cast doubt on an FBI informant's claim that his suggestions for alternate plans for the group — which included shooting a bullet through a window at one of Whitmer's homes, and which he was instructed not to offer — were designed to deescalate the group's schemes.

"When I look at this case," defense attorney Joshua Blanchard said near the end of his closing argument, "I am ashamed of the behavior of the leading law enforcement agency in the United States."

All four federal defendants face kidnapping conspiracy charges. Some also face other weapons charges.

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