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Federal judge denies Whitmer kidnap plotters' motion for new trial

George Hunter, The Detroit News on

Published in News & Features

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A federal judge Friday denied a motion for a third trial by two men who claimed the judge's biases and improper courtroom behavior led to their convictions in the plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Adam Fox and Barry Croft were convicted in August of kidnapping conspiracy and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. Croft and Fox, whose first trial ended in a mistrial in April, are scheduled to be sentenced in December, and face up to life in prison.

After the jury handed down a guilty verdict, attorneys for Fox and Croft in September filed a motion for a new trial, claiming the presiding judge, U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker of the Western District of Michigan, denied the defense a fair trial by not investigating a report of juror misconduct, making biased statements in court, and by imposing time limits on cross-examining the prosecution's witnesses.

In a 28-page ruling Friday, Jonker ruled that the defense's claims against him had no merit.

"They say the Court denied the defense a fair trial by failing to properly investigate a hearsay report of juror misconduct; by imposing time limits on the cross-examination of one of the government's witnesses; and by making comments that amount to judicial bias or the appearance of it," Jonker wrote. "Defendants fail to make out a colorable claim of juror misconduct necessary ... and there is no merit in their other contentions. According, the motion is denied."

Croft's lawyer, Joshua Blanchard, declined comment. Fox's attorney Christopher Gibbons did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday.


In their September motion for a new trial, the defense attorneys said Jonker had imposed an "arbitrary" time limit on cross-examination and and called defense questions "crap." Blanchard and Gibbons also revealed that a juror had violated a judicial order by texting a relative during deliberations that a verdict had been reached and would shortly be revealed.

In a motion to dismiss the new trial request, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler wrote that Jonker didn't treat the defense unfairly.

"The court criticized both sides whenever it perceived the party was using the jury's time inefficiently," Kessler wrote. "Finally, the court imposed a reasonable and isolated time limit on the defendants' cross-examination of one witness only after the defendants had repeatedly disregarded its warnings that their cross-examination was causing undue delay, wasting time, and resulting in needless presentation of cumulative evidence."

In April, the first trial of the accused plotters ended in a mistrial, and resulted in the acquittals of two co-defendants.

In another case related to the Whitmer kidnapping plot, Pete Musico, his son-in-law, Joseph Morrison, and acquaintance Paul Bellar were found guilty last month by a Jackson County jury of materially aiding a terrorist and being a member of a gang as part of the kidnapping scheme. Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 15.

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