NewsWhitmer Kidnapping Plot


How soon to expect a trial in governor kidnapping plot case, and how it differs from Hutaree trial

Posted at 5:35 PM, Oct 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-12 18:49:53-04

(WXYZ) — On Tuesday, five of the six defendants charged in federal court for conspiring to kidnap the governor will appear in front of a judge, while five of the seven defendants facing state charges will appear in front of a judge later this week. This all comes less than a week since the charges were announced, and as the plot continues making headlines.

“Cases are decided in the courtroom, not in the newspaper or on television,” said Detroit Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Rataj.

Rataj specializes in federal cases, representing Bobby Ferguson in the Kwame trial, and recently the Hutaree militia. Both cases, like the kidnapping plot, recievied national media attention.

"Whenever you have a high publicity case and you have defendants that appear to be guilty from what’s reported in the press, it makes a defense lawyers job much more difficult to be sure,” Rataj said.

On Tuesday, Ty Garbin, Daniel Harris, Kaleb Franks, Brandon Caserta and Adam Fox are due in federal court in Grand Rapids. Rataj says these hearings are just procedural, and a trial will take time.

“I can tell you based on past experiences in the federal system, a case of this magnitude, you could be looking at a trial a good year and a half, two years down the road,” Rataj said.

Seven others face state charges. Eric Molitor, and brothers Michael and William Null, will first appear Wednesday for a probable cause conference. Then they will join Shaun Fix for preliminary hearings on Oct. 28 in Northern Michigan.

Fix and Molitor are currently in the Antrim County Jail, while the Null brothers were transferred to Grand Traverse County Jail

Meanwhile, Joe Morrison and Peter Musico, the alleged founders of the Wolverine Watchmen, will have their conferences Friday, and preliminary hearings on Oct. 21 in Jackson, where they are both currently in custody.

“The time frame generally for a state court case is much quicker than in the federal system," Rataj said. "But given the magnitude of this case, you’re looking at a trial in that case well over a year from now if I had to guess.”

In 2012, Rataj had all the charges against the Hutaree militia dropped, but says comparing these two cases is apples to oranges.

"In our case, in the Hutaree case, our clients were charged with sedition, which is trying to overthrow the government. That was a very very tall mountain for the government to climb,” Rataj said. “These individuals are not charged with sedition. I think the way these people have been charged. I think the government learned a little bit from the Hutaree case.”

No court dates have been set for Barry Croft and Paul Bellar as they are currently being extradited to Michigan.

Depending on the bond amounts, Rataj expects it’s likely these men will remain in custody throughout the duration of the case.