Jury acquits all 3 charged in kidnap plot case
The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich. September 16, 2023
BELLAIRE, Michigan (Tribune News Service) — An Antrim County jury on Friday found three men not guilty of terrorism and weapons charges related to a 2020 plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer from her up-north vacation home.
Defense attorney William Barnett said his client felt vindicated.
“The message does need to go out,” Barnett said. “The FBI was driving people up to her cottage. This whole thing escalated at a very high level, right before an election.”
Molitor, 39, and twin brothers Michael and William Null, 41, were acquitted on charges of providing material support for an act of terrorism and possessing firearms while in the commission of a felony.
When the verdict was read, Molitor put his head in his hand and wept. The Nulls hugged their attorneys and family members, many of whom have been in court daily during the monthlong trial.
“Obviously the bond is terminated, you gentlemen are free to leave,” 13th Circuit Court Judge Charles Hamlyn said.
The men were among 14 people arrested on or about Oct. 7, 2020, and in livestreamed press conferences officials said the accused had planned the kidnapping in retaliation for the governor’s COVID lockdown orders.
Molitor, who last week testified in his own defense, acknowledged being present with Adam Fox during a daytime surveillance of the governor’s vacation home near Elk Rapids, but said he did not know that had been the purpose of the drive.
At the wheel was a man referred to in court as “CHS Dan,” who Molitor learned later was an FBI informant.
The Nulls, more than a week later, were along on a second, nighttime surveillance after traveling from the Cadillac area to Elk Rapids, and the vehicle they were riding in was driven by an undercover FBI agent, “Undercover Mark.”
William Null, who also testified in his own defense, stated he did not know the purpose of the trip until the men were up north — and neither he nor his brother heard Fox hand out assignments for each of three vehicles.
Michael Null did not testify and his lawyer, Thomas Siver, did not give an opening statement and asked few questions of trial witnesses.
Assistant Attorney General William Rollstin, the lead prosecutor, presented voluminous audio and video evidence which largely focused on two men the state said were ringleaders of the plot: Adam Fox and Barry Croft.
Molitor and the Null brothers knew Fox and Croft, but the defense said the state was trying to portray a relationship that did not exist.
The jury deliberated about nine hours; seven hours on Thursday and two hours Friday morning, before informing the judge that they had reached a verdict.
Molitor, the Nulls, defense attorneys and others congratulated one another outside the courthouse, where Barnett and Molitor spoke briefly to reporters.
Molitor thanked the jury and Judge Hamlyn and said he was considering getting involved in politics.
Barnett said he believed plea agreements and guilty verdicts in related cases should be re-examined. “This had politics all over it,” he said.
Two other state defendants, Shawn Fix and a Wisconsin man, Brian Higgins, previously accepted plea agreements with prosecutors in exchange for their cooperation, but were never called to testify.
Michael Naughton, who represents Higgins, said Friday a sentencing date hasn’t yet been set, and declined further comment on the status of that agreement following Friday’s not guilty verdict.
Nicole Dougherty, who represents Fix, did not return a call seeking comment.
Gov. Whitmer’s Chief of Staff JoAnne Huls called the verdicts “disappointing” and said this would “further encourage and embolden radical extremists trying to sow discord and harm public officials or law enforcement.”
Attorneys with Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office prosecuted the case.
“While today’s verdicts are not what we hoped for,” Nessel said, “the successes we have achieved throughout these cases, in both state and federal courts, sends a clear message that acts of domestic terrorism will not be tolerated in our state.”
In that statement, released shortly after the jury delivered their verdict, Nessel called attention to Fix and Higgins, and to state prosecutions against Joe Morrison, Paul Bellar and Pete Musico, in Jackson County, where a jury in 2022 found the men guilty of gang membership, material support for terrorism and possessing firearms during the commission of a felony.
A federal jury, in 2022, found Fox and Barry Croft guilty of conspiracy and the men, last month, filed appeal petitions. Two other men, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, accepted plea agreements with federal prosecutors in exchange for their cooperation.
Also in 2022, Brandon Caserta and Daniel Harris were found not guilty by a federal jury.
(c)2023 The Record-Eagle (Traverse City, Mich.)
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