DETROIT (AP) — A judge rejected claims of entrapment Tuesday and declined to dismiss charges ahead of a March trial against five men accused of trying to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
The men, who insist they were illegally influenced by rogue agents and informants, failed to meet a “heavy burden” to have the case dismissed at this point, U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker said.
He said they must show evidence of inducement and their own “clear absence” of interest in targeting Whitmer.
“At this pretrial stage, the court concludes the defense has not demonstrated as a matter of law that defendants’ wills were overcome by the actions of the government,” the judge said in a six-page opinion.
Jonker said a jury will have to decide who’s credible.
The men — Adam Fox, Barry Croft Jr., Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta — are accused of conspiring to kidnap Whitmer, a Democrat, because of their disgust over COVID-19 restrictions. Some are also facing weapons charges. They were arrested in October 2020.
A sixth defendant, Ty Garbin, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to slightly more than six years in prison. Prosecutors said he will be a star witness at the March 8 trial in federal court in Grand Rapids.
The government will present “substantial evidence” that the plot was hatched by two men and that others joined voluntarily, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler said in a court filing.
The evidence includes secretly recorded conversations. Kessler quoted Fox as telling an informant: “I want to have the governor hog-tied, laid out on a table while we all pose around like we just made the world’s biggest” drug bust.
When the kidnapping case was filed in 2020, it added even more heat to the final weeks of a tumultuous election season.
Whitmer pinned some blame on then-President Donald Trump, saying his refusal to denounce far-right groups had inspired extremists across the U.S. Trump had earlier urged supporters to “LIBERATE” Michigan from stay-at-home mandates.
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