Michigan jury gets case against 3 men tied to Whitmer plot

Crime

Paul Bellar, middle, appears before Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wilson on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022 for trial in Jackson, Mich. Paul Bellar, Joseph Morrison and Pete Musico are charged in connection with a 2020 anti-government plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. (J. Scott Park/Jackson Citizen Patriot via AP, Pool)

(AP) — Jurors began deliberations Tuesday in a third trial connected to a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a spinoff of the main case that resulted in four convictions in federal court.

Prosecutors acknowledge that Joe Morrison, Pete Musico and Paul Bellar were not deeply involved by fall 2020 when anti-government extremists trained in northern Michigan and took a ride to observe Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s vacation home and a bridge that could be blown up.

The three, however, are accused of providing assistance earlier that summer when a leader of the plot, Adam Fox, drilled with their paramilitary group, the Wolverine Watchmen, at a rural property in Jackson County where Morrison and Musico live.

“You can’t un-rob a bank. Once you commit a crime you can’t undo it,” state Assistant Attorney General Bill Rollstin said in final remarks Tuesday.

Morrison, 28, Musico, 44, and Bellar, 24, are charged with providing “material support” for a terrorist act and two other crimes.

The trial in state court in Jackson, Michigan, was a branch of the main case handled in federal court, where Fox and Barry Croft Jr. were convicted of a kidnapping conspiracy. Two other men pleaded guilty and two more were acquitted.

Authorities said the goal was to trigger a U.S. civil war, known to extremists as the “boogaloo.”

“I don’t care who you voted for,” Rollstin told the jury. “But to target our governor would be an incredibly destabilizing event in our state. What they had planned would have rocked this nation.”

Whitmer, a Democrat running for reelection on Nov. 8, was never physically harmed. Undercover FBI agents and informants were inside the group for months. The scheme was broken up with 14 arrests in October 2020.

Defense lawyers conceded that Morrison, Musico and Bellar expressed violent, profane opinions about Whitmer, police and government. But they argued that free speech is not a crime. They also emphasized that the three were on the sideline when the kidnapping scheme shifted to northern Michigan.

Bellar’s attorney, Andrew Kirkpatrick, said the trio’s connection to Fox was insignificant. He urged the jury to focus on the words “material support” in the main charge.

“If you’re building something, you gotta have materials to put something together. It’s not one time,” Kirkpatrick said Monday. “It’s not maybe two times of being at the same training session together. It’s material.”

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