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Trial for 3 men accused of plotting to kidnap Whitmer set to begin in Jackson County


Jackson — The state's case against a group of people accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will face its first test this week as three men head to trial in Jackson County.

Peter Musico, 43; his son-in-law, Joseph Morrison, 27; and acquaintance Paul Bellar, 22, are charged with providing material support for terrorism in the plot to kidnap Whitmer. They also face gang membership and felony firearm charges.

Their trial begins Monday with jury selection.

The three men have been described as a part of the Wolverine Watchmen militia who were angry over Whitmer's lockdown policies during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attorney General Dana Nessel's office has said Musico and Morrison provided a rural outdoor training ground for shooting weapons and building invasion practice and that Bellar was on hand to provide emergency first aid if needed.

Defense attorneys have said the state's cases are greatly exaggerated and depend on unreliable investigators and informants. The attorneys attempted to have the charges dismissed by arguing the FBI entrapped their clients, but Jackson County Circuit Judge Thomas Wilson denied their request.

It is the largest domestic terrorism case in a generation and has shed light on political extremism in Michigan.

Musico, Bellar and Morrison are part of a group of seven people with ties to the militia group who are charged in state court. The others — Shawn Fix of Belleville, Eric Molitor of Cadillac, Michael Null of Plainwell and William Null of Shelbyville — are being tried in Antrim County. Their case remains in District Court as a judge awaits briefs to determine if there is enough evidence to send the case to Circuit Court for trial.

Ringleaders Adam Fox, 38, of Potterville and Delaware resident Barry Croft, 46, were convicted in August in federal court of kidnapping conspiracy and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. Croft also was convicted of possessing an unregistered destructive device.

A jury acquitted two others, Lake Orion resident Daniel Harris, 24, and Brandon Caserta, 33, of Canton Township. Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks pleaded guilty to federal kidnapping conspiracy charges and testified as the government's star witnesses.

kberg@detroitnews.com