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Stateside Podcast: Prosecution rests in Whitmer kidnapping case

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Carole Kabrin
/
For Michigan Radio
The defendants, from left: Barry Croft, Adam Fox, Brandon Caserta, Daniel Harris

Federal prosecutors rested their case on Wednesday in the trial of four men accused of planning to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

The trial started three weeks ago, and prosecutors called more than a dozen witnesses to the stand, including undercover FBI agents, informants, and the two men who already pleaded guilty to the charge of conspiring to kidnap the governor. After prosecutors wrapped their case, defense attorneys had a chance to ask the judge to dismiss it due to a lack of evidence.

Federal judge Robert Jonker denied them that opportunity, saying the evidence shown so far is enough to let jurors seriously consider the charges. In particular, Jonker noted the testimony of Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, the two men who pleaded guilty.

“Accepting their testimony alone goes a long ways,” Jonker said.

Conspiracy to kidnap is the main charge in the case, and it’s the only charge against all four of the men. But there are three other charges affecting some of the men, and prosecutors spent more time this week establishing the basis for those charges, which include conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction, possession of an unregistered destructive device and possession of an unregistered short-barreled rifle.

Prosecutors called a series of FBI agents who helped collect evidence in the case to try to establish those other charges.

After they were done, defense attorneys started calling their first witnesses, but the trial had to break as a number of expected defense witnesses told judge Jonker they planned to invoke their Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves.

A total of 14 men have been charged so far in the alleged plot, in both state and federal courts, but prosecutors haven’t ruled out additional charges. Testifying in the trial could put some of the other witnesses in legal trouble, Jonker determined, before releasing them from their subpoena and allowing them to leave.

One of the people who was released is a key informant from Wisconsin named Steve Robeson. He made a number of the secret recordings jurors heard in court, but prosecutors now argue Robeson was a “double agent” who tried to have other evidence destroyed.

With several possible defense witnesses now out, a big remaining question in the case is whether any of the four accused men will testify in their own defense. As of Wednesday, none of the defense attorneys had ruled that out.

But if any are going to testify, Jonker said they need to make it known soon. Jonker called it a “momentous decision” for each of the men, but he said the case has been in the words for a long time.

“It’s time,” Jonker said. “Time to make that decision.”

Michigan Radio's Dustin Dwyer was a guest on the March 30 episode of Stateside. You can hear his interview in the Stateside Podcast audio file above.

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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.
April Van Buren
April Van Buren is a producer for Stateside. She produces interviews for air as well as web and social media content for the show.
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