GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Closing arguments got underway first thing Monday morning in the retrial of the two men charged with plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Adam Fox and Barry Croft are facing a jury for the second time after a jury in their first trial failed to return a verdict on any of the charges against them.
Both men are facing charges of conspiracy to kidnap, and possession of a weapon of mass destruction. Croft is also looking at a charge of possession of a "dangerous device".
Their co-defendants, Brandon Caserta and Daniel Harris, were acquitted on all charges in the first trial. A jury spent just over 4 days time deliberating the case.
Government Gives Closing Argument
"There are a lot of things in this case that are complicated, but one thing is simple, kidnapping is wrong," assistant US Attorney Nils Kessler said Monday morning.
"You can’t kidnap, and you certainly can’t make bombs to injure and kill people."
The government made their case first thing Monday morning, after Judge Robert Jonker briefly went over jury instructions Friday afternoon.
Kessler claimed that Croft "didn’t just want to kidnap (Governor Whitmer), he wanted to have his own trial, and execute her".
He said Croft wrote on his Facebook page, "Which governor is going to be dragged off and tried for treason?".
Croft was inspired by Timothy McVeigh, Waco, and Ruby Ridge, Kessler claimed.
He says Croft choose to focus his efforts on Michigan because that is where Adam Fox was located. Croft was living in Bear Delaware with his three daughters, and girlfriend of over a decade, Chasity Knight.
"If we get her in custody, treason is a hanging offense," Croft is heard in a secret recording from a diner in Cambria, Wisconsin.
Kessler says Fox was actively recruiting people in Michigan for the alleged plot.
The defense says that it was undercover informants and undercover FBI agents that were the ones trying to push the group towards criminal activity.
Kessler read a text message Fox allegedly sent to undercover informant Dan Chappel, which said, "OK, add these to equipment list: flash bangs, a hood for our asset, and I have flex cuffs".
He said that the government introduced undercover FBI agent Timothy Bates, known to the group as 'Red', so "at least they can keep them from exploding something."
He also claimed that Fox recruited Dan Chappel to the group, not the other way around.
It has previously been claimed in court that Chappel found the group while scrolling through Facebook, clicking on a 'suggested group' that popped up, and joining the Wolverine Watchmen there.
“This is not protected speech, this was planning for a crime," Kessler said.
"They started out with all kinds of plans, and abandoned the ones that weren't feasible."
Adam Fox's Closing Argument
"Big Dan surveilled and interacted with Facebook big talkers for several months starting in March of 2020," Fox's attorney, Chris Gibbons, began.
"By end of May 2020, the FBI and Dan found no evidence among the Watchmen of any crimes or conspiracy to interrupt."
Defense attorneys have argued that undercover informants Big Dan Chappel, Steve Robeson, Jenny Plunk, and undercover FBI agents Mark Schweers and Timothy Bates, did what they could to make it appear that Fox and Croft were plotting a kidnap.
"The FBI turned up the heat in early June, by putting various big talkers together at meetings, including Adam Fox," Gibbons said.
He read a text message sent FBI Special Agent Jayson Chambers to Chappel, saying, "Look at you, putting people together".
"Actions speak louder than words," Gibbons said Monday.
"Can there be any stronger evidence that, Adam Fox and others invited to these federal fun house meetings, they never joined a conspiracy, it amounted to nothing."
He argued that FBI case agents were set on having the investigation designated a "TEI", or terrorist enterprise investigation. T
Chappel allegedly suggested to Fox during a meeting that they could commit "other horrible crimes" including firing a round into Governor's Whitmer's house, and coordinating a multi-state attack with other guys, firing rounds into their respective governor's homes at the same time.
On August 9, 2020, Chappel also allegedly suggested to a group of people that they could "ambush the Governor on her way up north... blow up her cottage, put tannerite on the front porch to blow up her door".
Gibbons said Chappel took advantage of Fox at a low point in his life.
"For the first time in his life, in his darkest days, isolated, broke, homeless, living in a business that doesn't do business because of the pandemic, somebody cool, really cool, is showing him attention, wants to be his friend," he said.
"Adam feels the need to meet Dan's expectations, but Dan's expectations are wrong."
Gibbons said that while Fox liked to engage in "big talk", he committed no crimes.
"It's time to end this debacle, time to restore Adam's freedom," Gibbons ended.
Barry Croft's Closing Argument
"The FBI thought Barry Croft was dangerous," defense attorney Joshua Blanchard began.
"Barry made them angry when he blamed the FBI for the death of his friend KC Massey, and when he called for revenge. But after a year of watching Barry, agent (Christopher) Long wasn’t able to prove Barry committed any crimes, so the FBI set out to connect Barry with Adam Fox and the brick squad, and the (Wolverine) Watchmen."
Blanchard spoke extensively about how the government only played small clips of audio in court, of the over 1,000 hours of audio and video captured by undercover informants and FBI agents.
"They were bound and determined to make it look like Barry was involved in a plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan, and they weren’t about to let the truth get in the way of the story they wanted to tell."
Blanchard was referring to a clip played in court last week of FBI special agent Henrik Impola saying, "we have a saying in my office, don't let the facts get in the way of a good story".
Blanchard also spoke about the government's selective playing of audio and video clips during the trial.
"In some instances, they have sliced the clips down to as little as 4 seconds," he said.
He also touched on the conduct of undercover informants used in the case.
"The FBI paid (Jenny) Plunk thousands of dollars to keep Barry connected to the group," he said.
Blanchard says there were several occasions, including an overnight hotel stay, where Plunk was with Croft, and simply not recording.
“All we can do is wonder about the things she said or did to try and connect Barry to this group, which he was never part of," he said.
"There is not a single recording of Barry agreeing to be part of this plot."
He reiterated that Croft has now been behind bars for 684 days.
“Day 684 of Barry waiting for you to tell the FBI and US attorney, the truth does get in the way of the story they are trying to tell," he said.
"This isn’t how our country works. You don’t get to suspect someone might commit a crime, if you don’t like what people say, their ideology. You don’t get to lock people away for something they didn’t actually do."
Blanchard closed his argument by telling the jury that their verdict will have implications beyond just this case.
"You can tell the government that half truths are not enough, tell them they are required to tell us the whole truth," he said.
"Your verdict has the ability to protect the rights of more than just Barry Croft. You have the ability to protect the rights of all of us, the ability to make sure that our justice system is in fact the pinnacle of all those around the world, and the way you do that is returning a verdict of not guilty."
Closing arguments were finished just before 12:00 p.m. Monday, with the jury deliberating until 5:00.
Deliberations will continue 8:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.