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US Truck driver sentenced to more than 19 years in Michigan Gov. Whitmer kidnapping plot case

21:10  28 december  2022
21:10  28 december  2022 Source:   usatoday.com

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The second of two leaders of a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has been sentenced to more than 19 years in prison in one of the most high-profile cases of domestic terrorism in recent years.

Barry Croft Jr. was spared a life sentence Wednesday. The decision came after U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker on Tuesday sentenced his co-leader, Adam Fox, to 16 years.

"I do think of Mr. Croft as more culpable — he gave Mr. Fox something to hang on to, a higher purpose," Jonker said Wednesday.

Who is Barry Croft Jr?

Croft, a truck driver from Delaware, planned to kidnap Whitmer from her Michigan vacation home and ease the kidnappers' escape from law enforcement by blowing up a bridge, prosecutors argued.

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Croft's conduct was "a serious attempt to get to the governor," Jonker said during the hearing. "But I don't think it warrants a life sentence," he added.

Prosecutors had recommended a life sentence, reminding the judge that social media posts and secretly recorded conversations revealed Croft's desire to spark a “reign of terror” in 2020. Croft is expected to serve 235 months — or 19.6 years.

Croft, 47, was arrested in New Jersey in October 2020, one day after four other men, including Fox, were arrested in an FBI sting.

This combination of photos provided by the Kent County Sheriff and the Delaware Department of Justice shows, top row from left, Brandon Caserta and Barry Croft; and bottom row from left, Adam Dean Fox and Daniel Harris. © AP This combination of photos provided by the Kent County Sheriff and the Delaware Department of Justice shows, top row from left, Brandon Caserta and Barry Croft; and bottom row from left, Adam Dean Fox and Daniel Harris.

What Croft's defense lawyer said in court

During Wednesday's sentencing hearing, Croft's lawyer Joshua Blanchard described his client as a caring father to three daughters.

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"I have spent countless hours listening to recordings of this case ... the Barry Croft who I have come to know is more complex than the person I heard in those recordings," Blanchard said.

He also pushed back against claims outlining Croft's ability to orchestrate violent crimes.

"When I think about how he got here — I believe there is no question that Mr. Croft was isolated ... before the pandemic," Blanchard said, noting his client spent hours alone on the road as a trucker. "He went way down a conspiracy rabbit hole."

The defendants had also long argued that this was a case of entrapment — that rogue FBI agents and informants who were trying to build their own careers concocted the kidnapping idea and then enticed the defendants to say and do things they wouldn't otherwise do.

The alleged plan to blow up a bridge triggered terrorism and weapons of mass destruction charges in the case as prosecutors said Croft Jr. and others tried to explode homemade bombs but failed, and later planned to buy explosives from a bomb dealer who was really an undercover FBI agent.

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What did prosecutors argue?

In pushing for a life sentence, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler argued Croft Jr. was no different from other terrorists, alleging Croft and his co-defendants took a perverse view of the Constitution and sought to use it to spark a violent uprising.

"It wasn't about masks or vaccines ... or gun policy," Kessler said. "He's been wanting to do this for a long time ... These kinds of charlatans take a sacred document and show it to (others) and say, 'You can kill people and still be a good guy.'"

Kessler argued Croft Jr. didn't just want to kidnap Whitmer, nor did he even care about Whitmer, but wanted to spark a violent uprising against the government. And snatching any public figure, Kessler said, would help do that.

The abduction was meant to be the beginning of a “reign of terror,” Kessler said in court documents. At one point, Croft told allies: “I don’t like seeing anybody get killed either. But you don’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, you know what I mean?”

The government said Croft offered bomb-making skills and ideology while Fox was the “driving force urging their recruits to take up arms, kidnap the governor and kill those who stood in their way.”

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Who has been sentenced in Gov. Whitmer case?

In August, a federal jury in Grand Rapids, Michigan, found Croft and Fox guilty of plotting to kidnap Whitmer out of anger over her handling of the pandemic. Croft was also convicted of possessing an improvised explosive device in the form of a commercial firework refashioned with shrapnel to serve as a hand grenade.

Two other men, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta, were found not guilty in a separate trial in April. A first trial resulted in hung juries for both Fox and Croft.

Two men who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and testified against Fox and Croft also served time for the crime: Ty Garbin is free after serving a 2 1/2-year prison term, while Kaleb Franks was given a four-year sentence.

Three members of a paramilitary group that trained with Fox were convicted in October of providing material support for a terrorist act. Their sentences, handed down earlier this month in state court, ranged between 7 to 12 years.

Five more are awaiting trial in Antrim County, where Whitmer's vacation home is located.

Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks during Election Night, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022 in Detroit. © AP Photo/Carlos Osorio Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks during Election Night, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022 in Detroit.

Contributing: Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Truck driver sentenced to more than 19 years in Michigan Gov. Whitmer kidnapping plot case

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