A jury on Friday acquitted three men in the latest trial in connection with a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a plot that was portrayed as an example of domestic terrorism on the eve of the 2020 presidential election.
William Null, his twin brother Michael Null and Eric Molitor were found not guilty of supporting a terrorist attack and a weapons charge. They were the last of 14 men to be charged in state or federal court. Nine were convicted and five have now been acquitted.
The Nulls and Molitor were accused of supporting the plan’s leaders by participating in military exercises and traveling to Whitmer’s vacation home in northern Michigan. Key players Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr. were convicted in federal court last year of a kidnapping conspiracy.
In the most recent trial, the jury heard 14 days of testimony in Antrim County, the site of Whitmer’s lake property, 185 miles north of the state Capitol.
There was an uproar in the courtroom as the juror announced the verdicts, first for each brother and then for Molitor. The deliberations began on Thursday morning and continued for a few hours on Friday. The men cried as they hugged their lawyers and supporters.
“You gentlemen are free to leave,” Judge Charles Hamlyn said.
Outside the courthouse, a juror approached Molitor and “said he was very sorry for everything he had been through,” defense attorney William Barnett told The Associated Press. “The man shook his hand and hugged him.”
Barnett said the jury privately told the judge that the evidence simply did not provide “material support” for a kidnapping plot, a key prosecution term.
“They targeted the lives of three people and destroyed them for three years,” Barnett said of the attorney general’s office. “I’m just at a loss for words. This is an emotional moment.”
Authorities said an attack on Whitmer began at a regional summit of anti-government extremists in Dublin, Ohio, in the summer of 2020. Fox, Croft and William Null were present while an FBI informant, also at the meeting, secretly recorded vulgar tirades threatening violence against public officials.
The disgust was also fueled by government-imposed restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to recordings, text messages and social media posts presented as evidence in the trial.
Jurors were repeatedly shown images of the Zero brothers and Molitors carrying guns and wearing body armor during protests at the state Capitol and elsewhere in 2020, even though there was nothing illegal about those actions.
Whitmer’s chief of staff, JoAnne Huls, said Friday’s rulings were disappointing and would “further embolden and embolden radical extremists who seek to sow discord and harm public officials or law enforcement.”
Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a written statement that “the verdicts are not what we hoped for.” Her spokesman did not respond to a request for an interview with Nessel.
Molitor, 39, and William Null, 41, testified in their own defense and admitted taking part in target practice and taking trips to tour Whitmer’s estate. Molitor was in a pickup truck with Fox and had taken a short video of the house.
But William Null said he and his brother separated when it came to obtaining explosives. Molitor said Fox was “incredibly stupid” and would not carry out a kidnapping.
During closing arguments Wednesday, prosecutor William Rollstin urged the jury not to be influenced.
“If you help in whole or in part, you have fulfilled that part of the crime,” he said. “Did he help him plan it? Did he help him prepare? The answer is absolute.”
Michael Null, 41, did not testify and his attorney took the unusual step of not interviewing witnesses during the trial. Tom Siver told jurors that Michael Null did nothing wrong.
“A stroke of genius,” Barnett said of Siver’s strategy of silence.
Informants and undercover FBI agents were in the group for months before arrests were made in October 2020. Whitmer was not physically injured.
Nine men were previously convicted in state or federal court, either through guilty pleas or in three other trials. Shawn Fix And Brian Higgins pleaded guilty in Antrim County and agreed to cooperate, but were never called as a prosecution witness in the final trial.
Patrick Miles, a former U.S. attorney in western Michigan, said it was “mixed results” for prosecutors, with five acquittals in state or federal courts.
“I still think they were legitimate cases that needed to be brought,” Miles said. “It is very dangerous for our democracy when there are such threats through actual planning, training and scheming.”
After the plot was foiled, Whitmer blamed then-President Donald Trump, saying he had “provided comfort to those who spread fear, hate and division.” Outside of office, Trump called the 2022 kidnapping plot a “phony deal.”