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Jury selection starts in 3rd trial tied to Gov. Whitmer plot

Whitmer Bellar Morrison Musico.jpg
Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center and Jackson County Sheriff's Office via AP
AP File
Joe Morrison, Pete Musico and Paul Bellar are charged in Jackson County, Mich., with three crimes, including providing material support for terrorist acts.

Lawyers and the judge have been asking questions to weed out biases in the jury pool, ranging from news consumption to the personal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jury selection began Monday in a third trial connected to a 2020 anti-government plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Dozens of people who were called as potential jurors packed the courtroom, even sitting on heating vents. This time the venue is not federal court but a nearly century-old courthouse in Jackson, Michigan.

Joe Morrison, Pete Musico, and Paul Bellar are charged with three crimes, including providing material support for terrorist acts. All were members of the Wolverine Watchmen, a paramilitary group that trained in the Jackson area. They’re accused of assisting others who have been convicted of conspiring to kidnap Whitmer from her vacation home in northern Michigan.

Lawyers and the judge asked questions to try to weed out biases in the jury pool, including about news consumption, gun ownership and the personal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The selection process could take a day or more.

"Let's talk about Jan. 6 at the United States Capitol. ... A rather uncivilized event,” Assistant Attorney General Bill Rollstin said.

“Hurtful,” a woman replied.

Rollstin mentioned the riot because there will be evidence that Morrison, Musico and Bellar attended an armed legal protest inside the Michigan Capitol in 2020. At one point, Rollstin asked a group of 15 people if they had heard about federal convictions in the Whitmer plot. No one raised a hand.

Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks pleaded guilty in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The alleged leaders, Barry Croft and Adam Fox, were convicted at trial in August, while two more men were acquitted last spring. Lawyers for Morrison, Musico and Bellar say the men cut ties with Fox before the kidnapping plot accelerated in summer 2020; Bellar had moved to South Carolina.

The men also claim they were entrapped by an undercover informant and his FBI handlers. Investigators secretly recorded hate-filled conversations about Whitmer and other public officials who were denounced as tyrants, especially during the pandemic when businesses were shut down, people were ordered to stay home and schools were closed.

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