GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — A jury on Friday acquitted two men of all charges in a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer but couldn’t reach verdicts against the two alleged leaders, a stunning defeat for the government after a weekslong trial that centered on an FBI sting operation just before the 2020 election.
The decisions were announced a few hours after the jury said it was struggling to find unanimity on all 10 charges. The judge told the panel to keep working on the fifth day of deliberations, but jurors emerged again after lunch to say they were still deadlocked on some counts.
Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta were found not guilty of conspiracy. In addition, Harris was acquired of charges related to explosives and a gun.
The jury could not reach verdicts for Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr., which means the government can put them on trial again.
Fox’s attorney, Christopher Gibbons, said the acquittals of Harris and Caserta demonstrated some serious shortcomings in the government’s case.
“We’ll be ready for another trial. … We’ll eventually get what we wanted out of this, which is the truth and the justice I think Adam is entitled to,” Gibbons said.
Defense lawyers had portrayed their clients as credulous weekend warriors prone to big, wild talk, who were often stoned. They said FBI undercover agents and informants tricked and cajoled the men into agreeing to a conspiracy.
But prosecutors offered evidence of the men discussing abducting Whitmer before the FBI sting began. They went way beyond talk, including scouting Whitmer’s summer home and testing explosives, prosecutors told jurors.
There were 10 charges in the case: one against Caserta, two against Fox, three against Croft and four against Harris.
Deliberations resumed earlier Friday with a court employee handing over a large plastic bag containing pennies, known as exhibit 291. The pennies were requested before jurors went home Thursday.
Pennies taped to a commercial-grade firework were intended to act like shrapnel, investigators said.
According to evidence, a homemade explosive was detonated during training in September 2020, about a month before the men were arrested.
In his closing argument on April 1, Assistant US Attorney Nils Kessler said Croft wanted to test the explosive as a possible weapon to use against Whitmer’s security team. He quoted him as saying the pennies would be so hot they could go “right through your skin.”
The trial covered 20 days since March 8, including jury selection, evidence, final arguments and jury deliberations.
Prosecutors offered testimony from undercover agents, a crucial informant and two men who pleaded guilty to the plot. Jurors also read and heard secretly recorded conversations, violent social media posts and chat messages.
Prosecutors said the group was steeped in anti-government extremism and angry over Whitmer’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Croft is from Bear, Delaware, while the others are from Michigan.
Whitmer, a Democrat, rarely talks publicly about the plot, though she referred to “surprises” during her term that seemed like “something out of fiction” when she filed for reelection on March 17.
She has blamed former President Donald Trump for fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn right-wing extremists like those charged in the case.