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'A whole lot of talk': Attorneys make opening statements in latest Whitmer kidnapping plot trial

U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Michigan

Three men helped along a terrorist plot when they trained with ringleaders of the group that wanted to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. That was the argument made by prosecutors Wednesday as a trial on state charges got underway in a Jackson County courtroom.

Joseph Morrison, Pete Musico and Paul Bellar were not the leaders of the plot in 2020 to kidnap the governor. Their attorneys told jurors they weren’t even there for some of the most important parts. And they say the three men didn’t agree with the kidnapping plans.

Andrew Kirkpatrick said his client, Paul Bellar, moved out of state before kidnapping discussions got serious.

“There was no plan to kidnap Governor Whitmer. There was no plan to go and kidnap any politician. There was a whole lot of talk, the majority of which, you will see, my client wasn’t even involved in.”

But Assistant Attorney General Bill Rollstin told jurors the men worked with ringleaders such as Adam Fox and Barry Croft to advance the plans.

“They sought out a terrorists, they found him,” Rollstin said. “They gave him training, and that ladies and gentlemen, is why we’re here today.”

A total of 14 men were charged over the kidnapping plans, which took shape in the spring and summer of 2020, when thousands protested against Whitmer’s pandemic emergency orders.

In August, a federal jury found both Adam Fox and Barry Croft guilty of conspiring to kidnap the governor. They could face life in prison for their roles. Two other men — Kaleb Franks and Ty Garbin — pleaded guilty in federal court in exchange for reduced sentences. Another two were found not guilty.

The trial in Jackson County is the first to move forward in state courts. Another case in Antrim County has yet to begin.

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.
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