DETROIT (AP) — Michigan's attorney general suggested conservative politics played a role in the acquittal of three men in the final trial related to a plan to kidnap Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Dana Nessel, also a Democrat, told a liberal group Monday the trial was held in a “very right-leaning county.”
She said Friday's verdicts were "perplexing, confusing but terrifying." The Detroit News obtained a video of Nessel's remarks to a group called Protectors of Equality in Government.
It is uncommon for a prosecutor, or even a defense lawyer, to publicly question a jury's motivation. Unlike Nessel, the U.S. Justice Department did not blame two federal acquittals last year in the same investigation on ideology.
William Null, twin brother Michael Null and Eric Molitor were found not guilty of providing material support for a terrorist act and a weapon charge. They were the last of 14 men to face charges in state or federal court. Nine were convicted and a total of five were cleared.
In cases that went to trial, state and federal prosecutors won only five of 10 verdicts.
The Nulls and Molitor were accused of supporting leaders of the kidnapping plan by participating in military-style drills and traveling to see Whitmer's second home in northern Michigan's Antrim County. The main figures, Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr., were convicted of conspiracy last year in federal court.
“Three of them were acquitted by a jury in Antrim County, not because we didn’t have great evidence but because essentially, it seemed to me as though the Antrim County jurors, (in a) very, very right-leaning county (were) seemingly not so concerned about the kidnapping and assassination of the governor,” Nessel said, according to the newspaper.
Matthew Schneider, who was U.S. attorney in Detroit in 2020 when the FBI broke up the kidnapping plot, said Nessel’s remarks were inappropriate.
“We might disagree with jurors, but I don’t think it’s helpful to trash them and the American jury system when things don’t go our way,” Schneider told The Associated Press. “That’s especially true here where the AG’s office selected these jurors and agreed to have them serve during jury selection.”
The AP sought an interview with Nessel about the verdicts, but her office declined.
William Null and Molitor testified in their own defense. Michael Null's attorney, Tom Siver, said he was so unimpressed with the state's evidence that he did not cross-examine witnesses during 14 days of testimony.
Molitor's attorney, William Barnett, said Nessel's remarks were a “blatant insult” to jurors and Judge Charles Hamlyn who presided over jury selection.
“If people could not be impartial, they said so,” Barnett said of the jury process.
“She's barking up the wrong tree to be criticizing the jury that made the four-week sacrifice to do the duty of all American citizens to serve in their criminal justice system," he said.
At trial, Molitor said FBI informant Dan Chappel, who was inside the group for months, had "glued" the scheme together.
“He helped set people up. He drove people. He paid for stuff. He did trainings,” Molitor told the jury. “If it wasn't for him actually bringing people together and setting stuff up, the majority of people would not have gotten together to do this or even talked about stuff.”
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