Entrapment hearing for 3 accused in Whitmer kidnap plot pushed to February

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Jackson — A judge lowered bond Monday for one of three men accused of making terrorist threats in an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and permitted another suspect to travel to an out-of-state wedding. 

Jackson County Circuit Judge Thomas Wilson made the rulings during a Monday hearing and granted a request from the respective defense attorneys in the case to postpone a hearing on entrapment claims raised by the suspects to February. 

Peter Musico, 43, his son-in-law Joseph Morrison, 27, both of Munith, and acquaintance Paul Bellar, 22, have been described as part of the Wolverine Watchmen group angered over Whitmer’s lockdown policies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Joseph Morrison, left, and Pete Musico. Assistant Michigan Attorney General Gregory Townsend said Morrison and Musico were "founding members" of the Wolverine Watchmen militia group.

Musico and Morrison are accused of providing a rural outdoor training ground for shooting weapons and practicing invading buildings. Bellar, a former soldier who had some training as a medic, was on hand to provide emergency first aid if needed, prosecutors have said. 

Defense attorneys for the men told Wilson on Monday that the cases against their clients have been greatly exaggerated and largely depend on unreliable federal investigators and informants.

Wilson denied requests from the defendants' attorneys to dismiss charges. But the judge permitted additional time for the attorneys to obtain and review discovery before filing legal motions on how their clients have purportedly been unjustly charged with crimes.

This undated photo provided by the Richland County Public Information Office in Columbia, South Carolina shows Paul Bellar.

Reference was made Monday to possible perjury by a federal agent in the case but specifics were not discussed because it might involve federal charges pending in the incident. If it can be shown the men were persuaded or entrapped into making criminal statements or acts, the cases against them could theoretically be tossed out of court.

A spokesperson for state Attorney General Dana Nessel’s Office did not return calls Monday for comment.

Wilson adjourned the hearing until Feb. 23 and agreed to grant a request from Bellar to travel to a brother’s wedding in Florida. The judge also approved a bond reduction request for Morrison to $5,000 cash/surety, providing he will wear a GPS tether.

“We expect to explore all the charges against our clients in trial and some in February,” said Kareem Johnson, an attorney for Musico, who has been free on personal bond.

“Despite broad statements that have been made, my client, nor the others, ever have engaged in any violent criminal acts or been charged with any such crimes," Johnson said.

Attorney Nicholas Somberg, who represents Morrison, said he was happy Wilson lowered his client’s bond so he can be home with his family for the holidays.

“At one point, he (Morrison) had a $10 million bond, lowered to $150,000 and now $5,000,” Somberg said. “We are looking forward to obtaining discovery, including transcripts and texts of conversations between FBI and informants.”

Somberg noted his client and co-defendants are still facing the state charge of providing material support to a terrorist plot, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

The prosecution’s case allegedly includes social media posts, witnesses and “training” sessions in which men “ran around in the woods in camo with guns,” Andrew Kilpatrick, attorney for Bellar, told the judge on Monday.

“He (Bellar) told others he didn’t want to go to meetings anymore because at least one of the leaders was crazy,” Kilpatrick argued.

“When everything comes out, it will show my client and others didn’t do much of anything but sit around a bonfire, drink and smoke (marijuana) and brag about things they could do,” he claimed. “That’s quite a stretch from plotting something.”


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