Aug. 22 — BELLAIRE — A jury of seven men and 11 women sat in the trial on Monday after a day-long selection process against three men charged in connection with a plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
“You can’t discuss this matter with anyone. People are going to have questions — that’s the nature of the beast,” 13th Circuit Court Judge Charles Hamlyn told the 18 Antrim County residents just before 5 p.m. Monday.
The trial of co-defendants Eric Molitor and brothers Michael Null and William Null, who both pleaded to provide material support to an act of terrorism and commit a crime with a firearm, will begin at 9 a.m. on Wednesday. It is expected to take between two and three weeks.
In previous state and federal trials, 11 men, characterized by prosecutors as having extremist anti-government views, were either found guilty by a jury for their role in the plot or accepted plea deals in exchange for their testimony.
Monday’s jury selection process filled the Bellaire High School auditorium with court officials, lawyers, bailiffs and other security guards, the defendants and their attorneys, prosecutors, law enforcement officers and more than 100 prospective jurors, all from traditionally conservative Antrim County.
During voir dire – which refers to the interrogation by prosecutors, defense lawyers and the judge – a number of prospective jurors expressed distrust of the government and the media.
“Anything to do with a three-letter government, I’m suspicious,” a prospective juror told Judge Hamlyn, who is presiding over the case. “I’ve destroyed friends and family because of those desks.”
After further questioning by Hamlyn, the man indicated that his anger was directed at the FBI, the CIA and the IRS.
Hamlyn pointed out that at least one FBI agent was expected to testify in the upcoming trial and asked if the prospective juror could set aside his opinion, weigh the evidence and make a fair judgment.
“Probably not at this time,” the man said.
Another prospective juror said he felt confused by the actions of certain national politicians, citing former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who ripped up a speech by former President Donald Trump as an example.
Pelosi tore up a copy of the former president’s speech live on camera in February 2020 during a divisive State of the Union address she later called a “manifesto of untruths.”
Hamlyn explained separately and to several prospective jurors how serving on a jury is a civic duty and involves setting aside one’s personal and political opinions, listening to and weighing testimony and other evidence, consulting with fellow jurors and a fair judgment must be made.
“Neither Nancy Pelosi nor Donald Trump are part of this case,” the judge stated before asking the man if he could put his feelings aside, listen objectively to the evidence, and use only that to reach a verdict.
The prospective juror said he couldn’t.
Hamlyn excused both men “for good reason”, meaning that the court determined during questioning that they were not qualified to serve as jurors in this case.
Other candidate jurors who were excused for cause said they either ruled in advance in the case against the defendants, served on a grand jury in connection with a drug investigation and were shocked by the experience, “had no interest in determining” of a verdict, gave law enforcement priority over other witnesses, cared for elderly parents, knew Governor Whitmer, or had health or professional problems that made it a hardship to serve on the jury.
Defense attorneys and prosecutors separately excused another two dozen would-be jurors using “pre-emptive challenges,” which do not require a stated reason.
Chief Prosecutor William Rollstin, an assistant attorney general in Dana Nessel’s office, asked prospective jurors if they had strong feelings — positive or negative — about Governor Whitmer.
“Does it matter who the victim is?” Rollstin asked a number of prospective jurors, many of whom said no, though only one prospective juror said she supported the governor and was later excused in a preemptive challenge.
Attorney Thomas Siver, representing Michael Null, questioned jurors on a variety of issues, including the state’s recently passed removal laws, whether they would return a not guilty verdict if the state failed to prove every element of the crimes charged and the concept of the presumption of innocence.
“Mike Null,” said Siver over and over, placing his hands on his client’s shoulders, “as he sits here today, guilty or innocent?”
Every prospective juror he asked this question answered “not guilty.”
Attorney Damien Nunzio, representing William Null, urged jurors to use common sense when weighing the evidence and during deliberations.
“What we don’t want is we don’t want you checking your sanity at the door,” Nunzio said. “You have to tell yourself what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense.”
At the preliminary hearing, held about a year ago before Judge Michael Stepka of the 86th District Court, the state presented a variety of photos, text messages, selections of audio and video recordings between, or made by, what were then five defendants those against state expenditure. This was presented as evidence to bind the case to circuit court for trial.
Shawn Fix and Brian Higgins have since accepted plea deals in exchange for their testimony, though neither man is on the state’s witness list, which was submitted to the court in late July, or on the prosecution’s amended list, submitted several days later.