After more than 10 hours of deliberation, a jury unanimously found Eric Molitor and twins William and Mike Null not guilty of providing material support to a terrorist act and of possessing a firearm in the process.
They are the last of 14 defendants accused in an elaborately planned scheme to kidnap the governor from her summer cabin in Elk Rapids, Michigan, during the height of COVID-19 shutdowns. Prosecutors described the plot as a rallying cry for a U.S. civil war by anti-government extremists. The defense admitted to their clients' frustration with the government but not the intent of violence against the governor or local law enforcement.
Widely publicized throughout the country, the kidnapping plot captured the nation's attention in 2020 when the defendants were initially arrested. Pandemic restrictions were in full effect at the time, prompting backlash from certain factions, riots were erupting in cities in response to the murder of George Floyd and rallies with gun-wielding protesters were occurring in numerous state capitals.
Who was found not guilty Friday?
Molitor and the Null brothers were facing sentences of up to 20 years in prison. Now they are free men. Molitor said he had his bag packed and was ready to be taken to jail. He walked out of the courthouse with his mother, who had testified in his defense.
The case against them involved whether the men knowingly contributed to the terrorist plot. Entangled in that was the role the FBI had in the events leading up to the defendants' arrests. FBI informants and undercover agents both played a part in obtaining the evidence presented in court.
Michigan's Attorney General Dana Nessel said in an emailed statement that the verdicts aren't what the office hoped for but that prosecutors have successfully sent a clear message in federal and state courts domestic terrorism isn't tolerated in Michigan.
Mixed results for others charged, convicted in plot
Prior to Friday's ruling, the plot has so far seen four men strike a deal to plead guilty, two men acquitted, two men found guilty of kidnapping conspiracy and conspiracy to possess weapons of mass destruction, and three men convicted of felony counts of gang membership, providing material support to terrorism, and illegal weapons possession.
Here's where the other 11 men stand in charges relating to the kidnapping plot:
Fox and Croft filed an appeal with the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, asserting U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker didn't properly address allegations of jury misconduct and imposed unfair time limits on their attorneys' cross-examinations of key government witnesses.
Jonker sentenced Fox, the described leader of the conspiracy, to 16 years in prison, a lesser term than the life sentence sought by federal prosecutors. Jonker sentenced Croft to a 19-year prison stint. In addition to the kidnapping conspiracy plot, Croft also was convicted of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, and knowingly possessing an unregistered destructive device.
Contributing: Claire Thornton, USA TODAY; Arpan Lobo, Tresa Baldas, Frank Witsil, Detroit Free Press.