Federal judge delays trial in Whitmer kidnapping case

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

A federal judge Wednesday delayed the trial of five men accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer by almost seven months to give defense lawyers more time to prepare.

The move by U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker to reschedule the trial from March to Oct. 12 in federal court in Grand Rapids follows a request from defendant Brandon Caserta who cited voluminous evidence amassed during the FBI investigation. That evidence includes thousands of hours of recorded audio, more than 13,000 pages of encrypted text messages, videos and reports from undercover FBI agents and informants.

The trial is scheduled to start Oct. 12 in federal court in Grand Rapids.

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Jonker's order comes two weeks after prosecutors secured the first conviction in a high-profile case involving violent extremism in Michigan. Ty Garbin, 25, of Hartland Township, pleaded guilty to kidnapping conspiracy after being accused of participating in planning an attack on Whitmer at her vacation home in northern Michigan.

The kidnapping conspiracy charge is punishable by up to life in federal prison, and Garbin will be sentenced on July 8.

Prosecutors say the men were motivated by anger over state restrictions on travel and business during the COVID-19 pandemic. The men facing federal kidnapping conspiracy charges were part of a broader attempt to spark a civil war by overthrowing the government and kill police personnel, according to the government.

Brandon Caserta fires a weapon while training with other accused members of a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

In all, 14 people have been charged with crimes in state and federal court, including members and associates of an obscure militia, the Wolverine Watchmen.

Defense lawyers have portrayed their clients as tough talkers who were exercising their First Amendment rights who never carried out any kidnapping plot.

Prosecutors say Garbin hosted training sessions at his rural property in Luther and helped build an improvised explosive device comprised of black powder, balloons, a fuse and BBs for shrapnel.

Garbin has agreed to “fully cooperate” with the FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Michigan State Police and Attorney General’s Office in ongoing investigations and cases in federal and state court, according to the plea agreement. He also has agreed to submit to polygraph tests and testify against the others charged in the kidnap plot.

He used emojis in one private chat while suggesting to blow up a bridge near the property to hinder law enforcement and joined a nighttime surveillance run at the governor’s vacation home, according to the FBI.

Prosecutors accused Garbin of training for an attack to overthrow the government, and suggested “shooting up the governor’s vacation home,” according to FBI Special Agent Richard Trask.

rsnell@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @robertsnellnews