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Key testimony expected in kidnapping trial after judge warned lawyers about "wasting time" last week

Prosecutors say Adam Fox drew a map of the area around the governor's vacation home as he planned the kidnapping. Defense attorneys say Dan Chappel, the FBI's informant, asked him to do it, and then took the picture.
Courtesy U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Michigan.
Prosecutors say Adam Fox drew a map of the area around the governor's vacation home as he planned the kidnapping. Defense attorneys say Dan Chappel, the FBI's informant, asked him to do it, and then took the picture.

Jurors will likely hear this week from a key undercover FBI informant in the case of the alleged plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Dan Chappel was a combat veteran who said he joined a southeast Michigan militia in the spring of 2020 to practice his shooting skills.

When he saw the things the men in that militia were discussing online, he said he was so disturbed he went to the FBI and agreed to secretly record the men in the group.

Chappel testified in the federal kidnapping case in March. That case ended with the acquittal of two men charged in the plot. But jurors couldn’t reach agreement on the charges against two other men, Barry Croft and Adam Fox.

Croft and Fox are now being retried on the charges. Their defense attorneys told jurors last week Chappel will be key to the case.

“Big Dan is the beginning, the middle and the end of this case,” Fox’s attorney Christopher Gibbons told jurors during opening statements last week.

Fox and Croft are both accused of planning to take Whitmer from her vacation home in Elk Rapids, put her on a boat and leave her floating alone in Lake Michigan.

Last week, prosecutors played voice messages and videos shared by the two men on Facebook in the spring and summer of 2020, as much of the state remained locked down because of emergency pandemic orders.

“We getting ready to go the f— to war,” Croft said Fox, in one voice message sent over Facebook in late May of 2020.

Croft at the time was living in Delaware, Fox was living in Grand Rapids. In the messages prosecutors played, Fox talks of his disappointment with other militias he’d been involved in, calling them “social clubs.” He told Croft he was working on recruiting “elite” men, to go “snatch” the governor.

“F— a militia, we’re going to grow a f—ing army!” Fox said in a message sent in June 2020.

Prosecutors told jurors these conversations between Fox and Croft happened before Fox met Dan Chappel, and show that the men were already talking about kidnapping plans without the FBI’s involvement in the case. But defense attorneys have argued that the plans weren’t serious. Fox and Croft were both heavy marijuana smokers, and neither had the ability to carry out the fanciful plans they discussed, those attorneys said.

Instead, defense attorneys have argued, it was the FBI’s informants and undercover agents who set up meetings, hosted training events and entrapped Fox and Croft in the scheme.

On Friday, jurors heard from one of the other confidential sources in the case, an undercover FBI agent named Mark Schweers.

During cross examination, the judge in the case, Robert Jonker expressed frustration at how much time defense attorneys spent trying to pick apart the case.

“We’re going to be here ‘til Thanksgiving if the parties don’t start focusing on what the important issues are,” Jonker warned them, while jurors listened. “We’re wasting time.”

After the jury left for the day, Jonker continued his warning to the attorneys.

“You can look at the jury and see when they’re checking out,” Jonker said. “And they’re checking out.”

Jonker said the case was already on pace to last longer than the two-to-three weeks he initially told jurors at the outset.

Gibbons disagreed, saying he thought the trial could wrap as soon as the end of next week, and expected Chappel's testimony could be over in one day.

It wasn’t last time, Jonker reminded him.

“Everything’s taking longer this time, ironically,” he added.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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