State uses suspects' words as evidence of support for Whitmer kidnap plot




  • In US
  • 2022-10-07 17:15:52Z
  • By Detroit Free Press
 

As an FBI special agent continued to testify Friday in Jackson County in the trial of three men accused of aiding terrorism by helping others in a broader plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the prosecution showed the jury angry, obscenity-laced social media posts, texts and videos.

But did that chatter amount to a crime?

Joe Morrison, Pete Musico, and Paul Bellar are charged with providing material support for a terrorist act, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison, belonging to what prosecutors said is a dangerous gang, and using weapons while committing a crime.

Friday was two years to the day that the defendants were arrested.

Special Agent Henrik Impola spent the morning reading posts and texts into the record, with defense attorneys occasionally objecting and seeking more context.

And there was another problem: Not all the evidence was relevant to all the defendants.

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Andrew Kirkpatrick, who represents Bellar, said that his client had not gone to the meeting that was referenced nor, at the time, did he know the people who organized them, which prompted lawyers to debate and go back to the transcript to try to sort it out.

"How do we separate Mr. Morrison from Mr. Musico, from Mr. Bellar when we're throwing all this against the wall?" Leonard Ballard, the attorney representing Morrison, asked. "What I mean by 'throwing it against the wall' is you're having a conversation between this person and this person and we're attributing it to everyone there."

To address this concern, Judge Thomas Wilson advised the jury that Bellar was not at the meeting and acknowledged, as background, that while they are hearing new information, the lawyers have been living with it for many months and "know it inside and out."

From the trial's start, the prosecution said it aims to use the defendants' own words to convict them. But the defense - as Musico's attorney, Kareem Johnson, also said during his opening statements, that social media posts personify "Twitter fingers, not trigger fingers" - and added talk is just that.

The trial, which is expected to continue for at least another week, follows a federal case in which six men were charged. Two of them pleaded guilty, two were found guilty and two were acquitted.

Kaleb Franks, who took a plea and testified against the others, was sentenced Thursday to four years in prison.

Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or fwitsil@freepress.com.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Whitmer kidnap trial: State shows suspects' social media posts

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