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Attorneys rest their case in trial of three men accused of helping kidnapping plans

Kidnapping plot evidence
courtesy U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Michigan
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A training exercise involving the men accused of plotting to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer

Attorneys have presented all their evidence in a Jackson County trial of three men accused of helping in the plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020.

The judge in the case told jurors to expect to hear closing arguments in the case on Monday.

Paul Bellar, Pete Musico and Joseph Morrison are charged with providing material support for a terrorist act, being in a gang and posessing firearms while committing a felony.

On Friday, jurors heard from an undercover FBI agent, and from a man who said Joseph Morrison and Pete Musico regularly tried to talk to him about the governor when they stopped at a gas station where he worked.

“Mainly started with kidnap her, scare her at first,” Shawn Toth testified. “And then as weeks gone by, getting more and more agitated, where it’s kidnap and up to kill.”

“And what?” asked assistant attorney general William Rollstin?

“Up to kill,” Toth repeated. “And then other things on top of it.”

Defense attorneys have argued that the men were angry about the emergency pandemic orders that shut down businesses and schools, but that they weren’t serious about the kidnapping plans.

Defense attorney Andrew Kirkpatrick argued the state hadn’t shown enough evidence that his client was at all involved in the kidnapping plans.

“Your honor I’m ashamed of this case, I’ll put it right out there,” Kirkpatrick said, while the jury was outside of the courtroom. “Been frustrated throughout of the way this case has unfolded.”

Kirkpatrick said his client, Paul Bellar moved out of the state in July of 2020, before the kidnapping plans solidified. But Assistant Attorney General Sunita Doddamani said the case isn’t just about kidnapping.

“The act of terrorism that we are alleging is not simply a plot to kidnap the governor of the state of Michigan,” she argued. “It’s rather to kill police officers, kill politicians and do harm to the governor of the state of Michigan.”

Bellar, Musico and Morrison are among 14 men total who were charged over the plot. So far, two men were found guilty in federal court, two others pleaded guilty and two were found not guilty. Five other men are still awaiting trial in state court in Antrim County.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Radio’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Radio since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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