In Michigan, a jury punished FBI entrapment in the Whitmer kidnap plot case

Events on January 6, followed by the government's totalitarian approach to dealing with people who dared to enter the Capitol with the Capitol police's invitation, distracted people from another case of government overreach: in Michigan, the Department of Justice accused six men of conspiring to kidnap Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer in late 2020.  Although two men pleaded out, four went to trial.  On Friday, the jury acquitted two of the defendants and deadlocked as to the other two, resulting in a mistrial.  The reason for this DOJ failure?  The fact that the FBI made up 12 of the 18 people involved in the plot and were clearly entrapping the remaining six.

The defendants who went to trial were Daniel Harris; Brandon Caserta; Adam Fox (the alleged ringleader); and Barry Croft, Jr.  After hearing 13 days of testimony, the jurors concluded that Harris and Caserta were not guilty of conspiracy to kidnap Governor Whitmer, as well as concluding that Harris was not guilty of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction, along with other firearms charges.

The jury deadlocked when it came to Fox and Croft, leading to a mistrial.  In theory, that means the men can be retried.  In fact, though, the prosecution is going to have to think long and hard whether it wants to expose itself to another potential failure based upon an American jury's deep distaste for watching law enforcement try to destroy people's lives through deliberate entrapment.

Julie Kelly, in addition to keeping an eye on what the government is doing to the January 6 defendants, also followed the Michigan case.  In her article about the verdicts, Kelly explains that the judge wanted to keep entrapment out of the courtroom when the government put on its case.  However, the entrapment was so integral to the men's defense that it was impossible to do so.  Thus, the men could defend themselves only if they could "convince the jury that the government induced the criminal behavior and the defendants lacked predisposition to carry out the kidnapping conspiracy on their own."

There certainly was evidence to that effect.  It was the FBI agents and informants who put together the militia groups and took the lead in planning the fake kidnapping.  The main informant and planner, Dan Chappel, received over $60,000 in cash and gifts from the FBI over the six-month period that saw him grooming the defendants.

The prosecution was able to introduce evidence showing that the defendants did make inflammatory and even violent comments. However, Fox, the alleged ringleader and an almost homeless outcast, received at least 1,000 texts from Chappel. These outcast stoners were being steered in a specific direction.

Gretchen Whitmer.
Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy University of Michigan via Flickr, CC BY-ND 4.0.

The prosecution tried to argue that there was no entrapment of crazy misfits high on pot.  They wanted to do something bad — "If you don't like elected leaders, you can vote them out at the ballot box; what you can't do is kidnap them, kill them, or blow them up" — and needed to suffer the consequences for these plans.

However, the defense attorneys made the case about the FBI's sting.  During the closing argument, the defendants' lawyers, who were public defenders since the defendants couldn't afford to hire their own attorneys, told the jury that what the government did was "unacceptable in America. ... We don't make terrorists so we can arrest them."

Ken Bensinger, a BuzzFeed News reporter who covered the whole case, summed up what happened:

The outcome of the trial is a stunning rebuke to the prosecution, which at times appeared to view the case — one of the most prominent domestic terror investigations in a generation — as a slam dunk. The split verdict calls into question the Justice Department's strategy, and beyond that, its entire approach to combating domestic extremism. Defense attorneys in the case, along with observers from across the political spectrum, have argued the FBI's efforts to make the case, which involved at least a dozen confidential informants, went beyond legitimate law enforcement and into outright entrapment.

That's certainly what the jury believed.

The bottom line is that a jury didn't feel that the FBI, to increase its crime-solving rate, can first create a crime and then arrest and prosecute the people embroiled in the FBI's plot.

With the exquisite touch of the politically tin-eared, Gretchen Whitmer's office, rather than thanking the jury and applauding the system, savaged the jury by saying the verdict reflected "the normalization of political violence."

The message is clear: this is one Democrat official who supports America's democratic processes only when they serve her interests.  Across America, people are figuring out that this is the case for most Democrat officials.

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