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Jackson County jury convicts 3 men in plot to kidnap Gov. Whitmer

FILE - This combo of undated file images provided by Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, left, and Jackson County Sheriff's Office, show, from left, Paul Bellar, Joseph Morrison and Pete Musico. A scheme to kidnap Michigan's governor in 2020 will get yet another airing in a different court when three men face trial Monday, Oct. 3, 2022,  just weeks before voters consider whether to reelect Gretchen Whitmer to a second term. Joe Morrison, Pete Musico and Paul Bellar are charged in Jackson County, Mich., with three crimes, including providing material support for terrorist acts. (Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center and Jackson County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)
AP
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Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center and Jackson County Sheriff's Office
This combo of undated file images provided by Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, left, and Jackson County Sheriff's Office, show, from left, Paul Bellar, Joseph Morrison and Pete Musico.

This was the first test of the state’s case. Prosecutors have had mixed results in federal court.

A jury in Jackson County has found three men guilty on all counts of helping in the plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020.

Michigan prosecutors accused Paul Bellar, Joseph Morrison and Pete Musico of three charges:

  • providing material support for a terrorist act,
  • being in a gang,
  • and possessing firearms while committing felonies.

Defense attorneys tried to argue the men weren’t serious about the kidnapping plans, and didn’t support the leaders. But jurors disagreed, and found all three men guilty on all counts.

Two of the three men charged in Jackson County were in isolation for COVID-19 and not in court when the verdict was read.

Attorney Andrew Kirkpatrick tried to get Judge Thomas Wilson to let his client remain home until sentencing.

"Your honor, would the court entertain any argument whatsoever?" Kirkpatrick said. "He’s on a tether, he’s had no violations."

"I understand that," Wilson replied, "but given that we’ve got a felony firearm right off the bat—"

"I understand," Kirkpatrick said.

It was the first trial for state prosecutors in the case. Five other men are still awaiting a possible trial in Antrim County.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said she’s confident the state can get convictions in the remaining kidnapping cases.

Nessel says the Jackson County verdict showed the plans to kidnap, and possibly kill, Whitmer were not about politics.

“This was not about whether you’re a Democrat or an independent or a Republican," Nessel said. "These are individuals that didn’t align themselves with any party at all, in fact they were just anti-government altogether. And that’s why they wanted to murder people who were in government.”

A total of 14 men where initially charged in connection with the plot, in both federal and state courts. Seven have either pleaded guilty or been found guilty so far.

Two men were found not guilty in a federal trial.

Sentencing for Morrision, Musico and Bellar, in the Jackson County case, is scheduled for Dec. 15. Each faces up to 42 years in prison.


This story was reported by Michigan Radio's Dustin Dwyer. Edited for web by Ed Ronco.

Dustin Dwyer is a reporter for a new project at Michigan Radio that will look at improving economic opportunities for low-income children. Previously, he worked as an online journalist for Changing Gears, as a freelance reporter and as Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter. Before he joined Michigan Radio, Dustin interned at NPR's Talk of the Nation, wrote freelance stories for The Jackson Citizen-Patriot and completed a Reporting & Writing Fellowship at the Poynter Institute.