(NEW YORK) — The last three men to stand trial in connection with a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have been found not guilty on all counts.
Eric Molitor and twin brothers William Null and Michael Null were among the 14 men charged in state and federal court over the alleged plan to kidnap the governor at her vacation home in Antrim County in 2020, largely over the Democratic governor’s strict COVID-19 shutdowns.
Molitor, 39, and the Null brothers, both 41, had pleaded not guilty to state charges of providing material support for terrorist acts and illegally possessing firearms.
The Antrim County jury reached its verdict on Friday after about a day of deliberations following a three-week trial. Molitor broke down in tears of relief after his verdict was read.
During closing arguments on Wednesday, prosecutor James Rossiter told the jury that the defendants were going to help the plot leaders “bring terrorism to Antrim County.”
“If you’re going to help somebody, knowing that they planned a terrorist act, that’s wrong,” Rossiter said.
Molitor’s defense attorney, William Barnett, said in his closing that the state’s case is “weak” and accused the prosecutors of attempting to mislead jurors in their presentation of evidence.
“This thing just became a good story they couldn’t back out of. They’re here pulling the shortcuts to try to get somebody convicted, an innocent person,” Barnett said.
Prosecutors argued during the trial that the three men “hated” their government and assisted in the kidnapping plot, with the Nulls providing the “muscle” and Molitor recording video of Whitmer’s Antrim County property.
William Null and Molitor testified in their own defense, claiming they didn’t know the true nature of the plot until the last minute.
William Null told the jury that while on a nighttime surveillance mission, he didn’t know they were going to the governor’s cabin.
Molitor testified he feared for his life during surveillance of the cabin with Adam Fox, one of the plot leaders who was convicted on federal charges.
“What happens if we don’t do this stuff?” Molitor told the court. “He wasn’t saying, ‘Shoot somebody’ — that would have been a hard no. He didn’t say, ‘Blow something up’ — that would have been a hard no. He said, ‘Take a video.’ I took a video.”
Michael Null declined to testify.
Previously, nine of the militia members have been convicted in state or federal court in connection with the alleged plot, while two have been acquitted.
Pete Musico, Joseph Morrison and Paul Bellar were found guilty by a jury in Jackson County of providing material support for a terrorist act, the most serious charge, as well as firearms charges and membership in a gang and given yearslong state prison sentences in December.
Fox and Barry Croft Jr. were found guilty of federal conspiracy charges in a retrial last year after a previous trial ended in a hung jury. They both received double-digit sentences.
Kaleb Franks and Ty Garbin pleaded guilty to lesser charges last year and agreed to testify in the federal case against Fox and Croft. Franks was sentenced to four years in prison, while Garbin was sentenced to 30 months.
Brian Higgins and Shawn Fix each pleaded guilty to reduced state charges earlier this year in Antrim County and have agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Both have yet to be sentenced.
A jury found two of the members — Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta — not guilty of federal conspiracy charges during a trial last year.
In a statement released following that verdict, Whitmer’s office said the alleged plot was “the result of violent, divisive rhetoric that is all too common across our country.”
“There must be accountability and consequences for those who commit heinous crimes. Without accountability, extremists will be emboldened,” her office said in the statement.