Skip to content

“50% is a shame.” Attorneys criticize Whitmer’s kidnapping trial conviction rate

LANSING, MI — Five of the 14 men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have been found not guilty.

Considering the staff, money and time spent investigating and prosecuting the conspirators over a three-year period in multiple states, numerous Michigan cities and three different courts, some attorneys tell MLive the results were disappointing

The three men who opted for jury trials in Antrim County: Eric Molitor, 39, of Cadillac; Michael Null, 41, of Plainwell, and twin brother William Null, 41, of Shelbyville — were compensated with charges of providing material support to a terrorist plan and use of a firearm during the commission of a felony on Sept. 15.

After the verdict, “one of the jurors came over and gave my client a handshake and a short hug and just said, you know what, I’m so sorry for everything you went through,” attorney William said Barnett, who represented Molitor. .

In all, five men were found not guilty (two in federal court and three in County Antrim); Five were convicted by juries (two in federal court and three in Jackson County); and four pleaded guilty as a condition of plea deals they accepted from prosecutors (two in federal court and two in Antrim County).

In accordance with Pew Research analysis of federal court outcomes in fiscal year 2018, less than 1% of all cases that went to trial resulted in not guilty verdicts.

There are no readily available conviction statistics for Michigan courts, although attorneys agree that the conviction rate in state courts is lower than in federal court.

In the case of the kidnapping plot, 50% of the men who were tried in state or federal court were found not guilty by juries.

“A prosecutor should win 95 percent of the time,” Barnett said. “The AG’s office failed us, the FBI failed us, as far as the citizens are concerned. They should win every case, and they should win beyond a reasonable doubt in every case they bring.

“50% is a shame…”

My client was in jail for 90 days before being released on bond, Barnett said. “He can’t get those days back. He lost custody of his children” and “at first he couldn’t find a job”.

Michigan AG Dana Nessel’s office touted his office’s nearly 63 percent conviction rate among five of eight defendants prosecuted by his office, resulting in cumulative sentences of up to 131 years in prison.

“While today’s verdicts are not what we had hoped for, the successes we have achieved throughout these cases, in both state and federal courts, send a clear message that acts of domestic terrorism will not be tolerated in our state ” Nessel said after Antrim. Regional acquittals. “We remain committed to the fight against acts of domestic terrorism, and the proactive work in this joint action undoubtedly saved lives. I am grateful for the exemplary efforts of all involved at the local, state and federal levels.”

Cooley Law School Professor Jeffrey D. Swartz, who worked as a defense attorney, prosecutor and elected judge before entering academia, said a lower conviction rate among defendants was predictable state

“I’m not surprised at all,” he said. “These people were known to the feds at the time they charged their case, and obviously the feds didn’t think they could convict these people beyond a reasonable doubt, so they didn’t charge them.

“The state felt it needed to vindicate its investigation and its involvement and felt it needed to prosecute these people. I think it was predictable that there would be some acquittals.”

A leaked video of Nessel speaking to members of the nonprofit Protectors of Equality in Government indicated that he believes politics played a role in the Antrim County acquittals.

“Three of them were acquitted by a jury in County Antrim, not because we didn’t have great evidence, but because basically, it seemed to me like the juries in County Antrim, (in a) very, very biased county on the right (were ) apparently not as concerned about the kidnapping and assassination of the governor,” Nessel said. according to the Detroit News, who obtained and reported on the video.

Nessel’s office did not respond to MLive’s requests for comment or additional context.

However, lawyer Todd Shanker, who defended a militia member charged with seditious conspiracy in a case similar to the 2010 governor’s kidnapping plot, doubts politics influenced the Antrim jury’s decision.

“I would think they probably had a good pool of jurors, and jurors deliberated and jurors found not guilty,” he said.

Shanker defended an accused member of the Hutaree militia, a Christian-based anti-government group based near Adrian. The FBI, using some of the same methods – undercover agents, informants and covert recordings – accused the members of planning to kill a police officer and then attack attendees with explosives at the subsequent funeral.

Similar to Whitmer’s plot, the talk was violent and training ensued, “but they didn’t really do anything but run around Adrian’s woods,” Shanker said. “And so this case became very much a First Amendment situation, just because they didn’t move to do anything, even with the push from the informants and the undercover agents.”

After a trial, a federal judge acquitted seven of Hutaree’s nine defendants. Three pleaded guilty to possession of illegal weapons and were released on parole.

Shanker said he felt the Whitmer case involved “more action” and had a better chance of resulting in convictions.

“The bottom line is that if you don’t have any action, you’re going to have a hard time showing any conspiracy,” he said. “People can talk all they want, but you need something to back it up.

“And I think some of the cases related to Whitmer showed action.”

In addition to several armed training sessions, meetings and violent exchanges of text messages, some of Whitmer’s co-conspirators watched over the governor’s vacation home, and the FBI claimed that some of the defendants were preparing to raise money for the purchase of explosives and other military equipment at that time. of their arrests in October 2020.

“Sometimes they cast too wide a net when they do things like this,” Shanker said. “It’s a bit of a mixed bag. Obviously, there’s wasted money on the table if people are being acquitted, especially after trials, because that costs a lot of money.”

Among defendants convicted by juries, sentences range from seven to 19 years. The defendants who have pleaded guilty received sentences ranging from 2 1/2 years to four years. Two who pleaded guilty in County Antrim are awaiting sentencing.

Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr., who were identified by the FBI as ringleaders of the plot, received the most severe prison terms and are appealing their convictions.

Despite vastly different outcomes for some defendants, “I can guarantee that the defense in federal court was not much different than the defense in Antrim County,” Swartz said. “I think you see the place effect … and you have the right to be tried by a jury of your peers, so where are you being charged, what are you being charged with, what are your demographics, what is your Jury group plays a very important role.

“Those people who deserved to be convicted before a jury of their peers were convicted. Those they did not consider worthy of being condemned were acquitted. And that’s how the system should work.”

Shanker doesn’t believe the less-than-stellar prosecutorial results will deter the FBI, AG or US attorney from pursuing domestic terrorism investigations. In fact, he thinks they’ll consider the case a win.

“I think we’ll see more of these later,” he said. Especially with the federal convictions, “I think they’re a little emboldened right now.

“I don’t know how the state feels, but the feds I’m sure feel they can continue to be aggressive with these things.”

Learn more at MLive:

Not Guilty, Jury Verdicts in Final Trial for Michigan Gov. Whitmer Kidnapping Plot Suspects

Jury to begin deliberations in trial for remaining men charged in Gov. Whitmer kidnapping plot

“They wanted a civil war.” The last of Governor Whitmer’s accused kidnap conspirators go to trial

The final trial in the Michigan kidnapping plot begins with jury selection

Michigan AG asks judge to bar FBI entrapment charges in upcoming Gov. Whitmer kidnapping plot trial

Michigan AG’s witness tampering reveals ‘huge flaw’ in system, says kidnap plot lawyer


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *