Advance Notice: Briefs

Defense in Whitmer kidnapping plot retrial accuse judge of favoring prosecution 

By: - August 18, 2022 10:37 am

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer | Whitmer office photo

Two key witnesses testified Wednesday in the retrial of two men charged with conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020.

Ty Garbin of Hartland Township, and Kaleb Franks of Waterford, said the defendants were fully onboard with the plan and eager to implement it. Garbin and Franks, who are considered vital for the government’s case, pleaded guilty following their arrest and agreed to testify for the prosecution.

Adam Fox, 39, and Barry Croft Jr., 46, are being tried for a second time on conspiracy charges after a jury in April couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict in their cases, but acquitted two other men. 

Garbin told jurors in a Grand Rapids federal court Wednesday that he didn’t recall that two FBI informants who trained with the group were responsible for proposing that Whitmer should be kidnapped.

Two men acquitted in Whitmer kidnapping trial

The role of the informants became a key issue in the first trial, with defense attorneys arguing that the defendants had no real intention to kidnap Whitmer and had been entrapped.

Conflict arose on Wednesday between defense counsel and the judge when the lawyers were limited to 25 minutes each for cross-examination of Franks. One of the attorneys, Joshua Blanchard, called the limitation unconstitutional considering that Fox and Croft face possible life sentences if convicted.

“The court has been interjecting in the defense case,” said Blanchard. “It has not been interjecting in the government’s case. And it’s creating a perception, I think, among the jurors that the court has a preference for how this case ends.”

U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker, who complained last week about the trial’s pace, defended his decision, saying there was no need for certain questions to be “teed up over and over again.”

Garbin and Franks recounted again how they trained with Fox, Croft and others in a remote area, including in a so-called “shoot house” used to simulate the kidnapping. They also testified how the group traveled to Whitmer’s vacation home in Elk Rapids at night to see a bridge that they planned to blow up so as to slow up police response during an attack. 

Both men said they freely joined the plot and that neither undercover FBI agents nor informants convinced them to do so. 

Garbin also testified that nearly six months before they were arrested, he and Fox were at a gun rights rally at the Michigan Capitol in June 2020.

“Adam Fox had mentioned storming the Capitol building and arresting elected officials and holding them on trial for their crimes and treason,” said Garbin, adding that Whitmer was at the top of the list.

“Hang her on public TV for the world to see,” he testified.

Both Garbin and Franks were questioned by defense attorneys about their guilty pleas, getting them to acknowledge that they were seeking a lighter sentence. 

Garbin was previously sentenced to six years in prison but could get a further reduction for his cooperation. However, both men insisted that no one asked them to lie and that their testimony was truthful.

Testimony is continuing Thursday.

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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2021 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell, where he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Livingston Diversity Council.