GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Jury selection started Tuesday in the second trial of two men charged with conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 over their disgust with restrictions early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prosecutors are putting Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr. on trial again after a jury in April couldn’t reach a verdict. Two co-defendants were acquitted and two more pleaded guilty earlier.
Dozens of prospective jurors from western and northern Michigan reported to the federal courthouse in Grand Rapids.
“I don’t know if you feel like you won the lottery or just got called to the principal’s office. But either way, welcome,” U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker said.
The plot to kidnap the Democratic governor followed training in Wisconsin and Michigan and two trips to scout her second home in northern Michigan, according to evidence in the first trial.
Fox, 39, lived in the Grand Rapids area and Croft, 46, is from Bear, Delaware. They regularly communicated with other extremists who were angry with Whitmer and various public officials, evidence showed.
“This is not a political forum,” Jonker said during opening remarks to the jury pool.
Convicting or acquitting the men can’t be influenced by “whether you like Governor Whitmer or dislike Governor Whitmer,” the judge said. “It’s not if you think masking mandates or vaccine mandates or any other response was good or bad policy. It’s not a proxy for any of those things.”
The jury will hear secretly recorded conversations and see text messages and social media posts favoring violence. Defense attorneys, however, will hammer away at the credibility of undercover FBI agents and informants who fooled the group into thinking they were allies.
Lawyers for Fox and Croft will argue they were shielded by the First Amendment and entrapped by the government every step of the way.
“Utter nonsense,” Fox’s attorney, Christopher Gibbons, said of a kidnapping plan.
Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta were found not guilty at the first trial. Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks earlier pleaded guilty and will testify again against Fox and Croft.
Garbin told jurors at the first trial that the goal was to cause national chaos with a kidnapping close to the election between Joe Biden and then-President Donald Trump.
Whitmer, who will not be called as a trial witness, disclosed Monday night that she tested positive for COVID-19 for the first time and was experiencing mild symptoms. In a recent interview, she said she believes she was the target of an “assassination plot,” not just a kidnapping.
“No one talks about it that way,” Whitmer told The Washington Post.
White reported from Detroit. Cappelletti is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.