A Michigan jury on Wednesday found three men guilty of aiding a conspiracy to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020, a plot that prosecutors said grew out of hostility over restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After two weeks of testimony in Jackson County Circuit Court, the jury found Joseph Morrison, 28, his father-in-law Pete Musico, 44, and Paul Bellar, 23, guilty of gang membership, firearm violations and providing material support for terrorism. They could face up to 20 years in prison.
The three are among more than a dozen men arrested in October 2020 and charged with state or federal crimes in the alleged kidnapping conspiracy.
The verdict was a victory for state prosecutors who argued that the men assisted two others who in August were found guilty of kidnapping conspiracy in federal court. It stands as the most prominent case involving domestic terrorism and militias in years.
In the earlier trial, Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr. were found guilty of plotting to abduct the Democratic governor from her vacation home. Their convictions followed a first trial that ended in a hung jury. Two other defendants were acquitted during those proceedings.
Prosecutors said Morrison, Musico and Bellar were members of a militia group called the Wolverine Watchmen. The group planned to break into the governor’s vacation home, kidnap her and take her at gunpoint to stand “trial” on treason charges, they said.
The conspirators hoped that an abduction would lead to a violent uprising and instigate a civil war, prosecutors said.
Morrison and Musico were accused of hosting tactical training sessions on their property in a remote part of Michigan. Bellar was accused of providing plans for tactical maneuvers, coded language for covert communication and ammunition.
Defense attorneys argued the defendants did not know of a plan to kidnap the governor and that their actions were protected by the First and Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Detroit News reported.
In September, a federal judge reduced the sentence of Ty Garbin, who pleaded guilty to participating in the plot after his testimony helped convict Fox and Croft.
Kaleb Franks, who also pleaded guilty to playing a role in the scheme, was sentenced to four years in prison earlier this month after serving as a key witness in the case against Fox and Croft.