Jury set in trial of 4 charged in Gov. Whitmer kidnapping plot

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — A jury has been selected for the trial of four men charged with plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020.

Opening statements are scheduled to begin Wednesday in federal court in Grand Rapids. After the jury was selected Tuesday, Judge Robert Jonker told them to stay off social media and not discuss the case with family.

"Put them on pause," he said.

Prosecutors say the men conspired to kidnap the Democratic governor because they were angry about COVID-19 restrictions she imposed. They are Adam Fox, Brandon Caserta, Barry Croft Jr. and Daniel Harris.

Two other men who have pleaded guilty will testify for the government. Defense attorneys have signaled they’ll argue entrapment by the FBI.

Jonker told prospective jurors Tuesday they must set aside personal feelings about politics, Whitmer and her administration’s pandemic response. Several potential jurors were dismissed after saying they have strong feelings for or against Whitmer or the government.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Jurors are being selected Tuesday for the trial of four men

Prosecutors have said the men were angry over the Democratic governor's pandemic restrictions and that they will present secret recordings and other evidence, including of a trip to check Whitmer’s vacation home and training with weapons and explosives.

Defense attorneys say the men deny any conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer, and have signaled an entrapment defense, criticizing the government’s use of undercover FBI agents and confidential informants.

U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker, presiding over the trial in federal court in Grand Rapids, told prospective jurors they must put aside any personal feelings about politics, Whitmer and her administration’s response to COVID-19, to fairly hear the case. Several said they weren't sure they could be impartial.

Several people were dismissed after the judge’s questions

Others were dismissed from the trial, which could take more than a month, due to job or home conflicts, including a nurse who worked throughout the pandemic. The woman said she finally has a trip planned and "I really want to go on vacation."

In 2020, Whitmer was trading taunts with then-President Donald Trump over his administration's response to COVID-19. Her critics, meanwhile,

During that turbulent time, when stay-home orders were in place and the economy was restricted, Adam Fox, Brandon Caserta, Barry Croft Jr. and Daniel Harris were coming up with a plot to snatch Whitmer, prosecutors say.

They're accused of taking critical steps over several months, including secret messaging, gun drills in the woods and a night drive to northern Michigan to scout her second home and figure out how to blow up a bridge.

The FBI, which had infiltrated the group, said it thwarted the plan with the arrests of six men in October 2020. Two of them,

Garbin said Fox, the alleged ringleader, wanted the men to chip in for a $4,000 explosive large enough to destroy a bridge near Whitmer's home and distract police during a kidnapping.

"The blood of tyrants needs to be shed," Garbin quoted Caserta as saying during a meeting.

Garbin and Franks insist no one in the group acted because of excessive influence by agents or undercover informants.

"It is not the end of the case for the defense, but it's a big obstacle to overcome," John Smietanka, a former federal prosecutor, said of the pair's cooperation. "It's going to come down to the credibility of witnesses plus the effect of any extrinsic evidence, like tapes."

The pool of prospective jurors was drawn from a 22-county slice of western and northern Michigan, extending from just below the Grand Rapids metro area to the tip of the Lower Peninsula. The region is largely rural and leans Republican, although Democrats recently have gained in Grand Rapids — the state’s second-largest city — and surrounding Kent County, which backed Whitmer in 2018. She carried only two of the other counties.

Whitmer, who is seeking reelection this year, rarely talks publicly about the case and isn't expected to attend the trial. After charges were filed in 2020, just weeks before the fall election, she

"The plots and threats against me, no matter how disturbing, could not deter me from doing everything I could to save as many lives as possible by listening to medical and health experts," Whitmer said last summer, referring to COVID-19.

Separately, authorities in state court are prosecuting eight men who are accused of aiding the group.


White reported from Detroit and Burnett reported from Chicago. Reporter John Flesher contributed from Traverse City, Michigan.