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Judge drops terrorism charges against 3 Whitmer kidnapping defendants

By
Don Jacobson
Protesters against COVID-19 lockdowns gathered near the Michigan state Capitol in Lansing, Michigan, on April 15. Prosecutors say militia members plotted to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer over their anger with the lockdown measures. File photo by Jeffrey Sauger/EPA-EFE/
Protesters against COVID-19 lockdowns gathered near the Michigan state Capitol in Lansing, Michigan, on April 15. Prosecutors say militia members plotted to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer over their anger with the lockdown measures. File photo by Jeffrey Sauger/EPA-EFE/

March 29 (UPI) -- A Michigan judge on Monday dismissed or denied terrorism charges against three men accused in a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, but allowed their trial to go forward on other counts.

Jackson County, Mich., Judge Michael Klaeren ruled in a preliminary examination there wasn't enough probable cause for threat of terrorism charges against Pete Musico, 43 and his son-in-law, Joseph Morrison, 26 -- two of the eight militia members charged in the plot, The Detroit Free Press reported.

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The judge also denied the state's motion that a terrorism-related charge be added against fellow defendant Paul Bellar, 22.

But Klaeren also ordered that the trio be bound over for trial on other charges, including material support for a terrorist act, gang membership and carrying a firearm in the commission of a felony.

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Prosecutors say members of the Wolverine Watchmen militia group conspired between June 6 and Oct. 7 to kidnap and possibly execute Whitmer in response to her pandemic-related stay-at-home orders.

Investigators said the plot included recruiting hundreds of followers to storm the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing before the Nov. 3 election, taking the governor hostage and putting her on trial for "treason."

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In declining to allow the terror-related charges, Klaeren noted the group members were speaking only to each other via encrypted messages when they made comments deemed by prosecutors to be terrorism.

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"There has to be some form of intent here to incite mayhem," he said.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel told The Detroit News the state will "explore all options for reconsideration" of the terror charges, which carry a potential penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

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