A jury acquitted three people Friday in the last trial related to a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a plan that was portrayed as an example of domestic terrorism on the eve of the 2020 presidential election.
William Null, twin brother Michael Null and Eric Molitor were found not guilty of providing support for a terrorist act and weapons charges. He was the last of the 14 people to face charges in state or federal court. Nine were convicted and five have now been acquitted.
Nulls and Molitor were accused of supporting leaders of the plan by participating in military-style exercises and traveling to see Whitmer’s vacation home in northern Michigan. The key players, Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr., were convicted of kidnapping conspiracy in federal court last year.
In the latest trial, the jury heard 14 days of testimony in Antrim County, the location of Whitmer’s lakeside estate, which is 185 miles north of the state Capitol.
As the jury foreperson announced the verdicts, first for each brother and then for Molitor, there was an outcry in the courtroom. The deliberations began on Thursday morning and continued for a few more hours on Friday. They cried while hugging their lawyers and supporters.
Judge Charles Hamlin said, “You gentlemen are free to go.”
Defense attorney William Barnett told The Associated Press that outside the courtroom, a juror came up to Molitor and “said he was very sorry for what he had to go through.” “The man shook her hand and hugged her.”
Barnett said jurors privately told the judge that the evidence did not amount to “material support” for a kidnapping conspiracy, a key phrase in the charge.
“They went after three people’s lives and destroyed them for three years,” Barnett said of the attorney general’s office. “I have no words left. It is an emotional moment.”
Officials said fears of an attack on Whitmer began at a regional summit of anti-government extremists in Dublin, Ohio, in the summer of 2020. Fox, Croft, and William Null were present, while an FBI informant also secretly recorded the profanity-laced speeches inside the meeting. Threatening violence against government officials.
The hatred was also fueled by restrictions imposed by the government during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to recordings, text messages and social media posts presented as evidence during the trial.
Jurors were repeatedly shown photos of the Null brothers and Molitor holding guns and wearing body armor at state Capitol protests and elsewhere in 2020, even though there was nothing illegal about those actions. .
Whitmer’s chief of staff, Joanne Hulce, said Friday’s decisions were disappointing and would “further embolden and embolden radical extremists who are seeking to sow discord and harm public officials or law enforcement.”
“The verdicts are not what we expected,” state Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a written statement. His spokesperson did not respond to a request for an interview with Nessel.
Molitor, 39, and William Null, 41, testified in his own defense, admitting that they had participated in gun practice and had taken a ride to see Whitmer’s estate. Molitor was in a pickup truck with Fox and recorded a brief video of the house.
But William Null said that when matters turned to obtaining the explosives, he and his brother parted ways. Molitor said that Fox was “incredibly stupid” and would not commit kidnapping.
During closing arguments Wednesday, prosecutor William Rolstein urged jurors not to be swayed.
“If you help in whole or in part, you satisfy that element of the crime,” he said. “Was he helping her plan it? Was he helping her prepare? The answer is absolutely.”
Michael Null, 41, did not testify and his lawyer took the unusual step of refusing to question any witnesses during the trial. Tom Siver told jurors that Michael Null did nothing wrong.
“A stroke of genius,” Barnett said of Sciver’s silencing strategy.
Informants and undercover FBI agents were inside the group for months before their arrest in October 2020. Whitmer was not physically harmed.
Nine people had previously been convicted in state or federal court, either through guilty pleas or in three other trials. Shawn Fix and Brian Higgins pleaded guilty in Antrim County and agreed to cooperate but were never called as prosecution witnesses at the final trial.
Patrick Miles, a former U.S. attorney in western Michigan, said it was “mixed results” for prosecutors who acquitted the five men in state or federal court.
“I still think these were legitimate cases that needed to be brought forward,” Miles said. “It is very dangerous for our democracy when these types of threats occur with actual planning, training and conspiracy.”
After the plot failed, Whitmer accused then-President Donald Trump of giving “comfort to those who spread fear, hatred and division.” Out of office, Trump called the hijacking plan in 2022 a “bogus deal.”