BELLAIRE — The trial or trials for five men accused of participating in a plot to kidnap Michigan’s governor will likely take place sometime in June, a 13th Circuit Court judge said at a pre-trial hearing Monday.
On Dec. 12, 13th Circuit Court Judge Kevin Elsenheimer signed an Order of Consolidation to cover Monday’s hearing, although state prosecutors have since filed a motion for joinder, seeking to try the men together.
Coverage of the legal case against those accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Shawn Fix, Eric Molitor, Michael Null and William Null, all of Michigan, are charged with one count each of providing material support or resources for an act of terrorism and one count each of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
Brian Higgins, a resident of Wisconsin, is charged with one count of providing material support or resources for an act of terrorism.
The men on Dec. 7 pleaded not guilty or stood mute as a district court judge bound the case over for trial following a four-day preliminary hearing in Traverse City late last summer.
They are among more than a dozen men accused of participating in the plot, some of whom faced federal charges while others were charged in state courts, and are the only defendants yet to face trial.
According to evidence previously presented in court, the men were angered by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders signed during the COVID-19 pandemic, opposed mask and possible vaccine mandates.
The state is represented by four attorneys with the Michigan Attorney General’s office, which is prosecuting the case, and the five defendants are represented by six defense attorneys from Traverse City, Cadillac, Grand Rapids and Flint.
The attorneys all attended Monday’s hearing via Zoom, and some defense attorneys said they planned to object to a single trial.
“If there’s an objection, certainly I want to hear what those arguments are,” Elsenheimer said, giving the defense until Feb. 2 to file their written arguments with the court.
Circuit court records show the five cases are currently assigned to Elsenheimer and Charles Hamlyn, the court’s only other judge, who was elected in November to replace Thomas Power, the longtime judge who retired at the end of last year.
Elsenheimer may schedule oral arguments or he may simply rule on the motion after considering filed briefs; if the case is consolidated, a coin flip will decide which judge presides, he said.
Either way, the trial or trials will be held in front of a jury in person in Antrim County, the judge said, although it is unclear how five defendants, their attorneys, members of their families, the jurors, the media and interested members of the public could be accommodated in the courthouse’s second-floor courtroom.
Elsenheimer said Monday that voir dire — the process of questioning prospective jurors by the prosecution and defense — would take place together whether or not the cases are tried that way.
“In order to facilitate trial, we’re going to implement a coordinated voir dire,” Elsenheimer said. “Antrim County is a relatively small county, it has approximately 25,000 residents, depending on the year, and conducting five trials where we have to bring in a large number of jurors is going to require some effort on all of our parts.”
Attorneys were invited to submit 20 questions to the court by April 15 as suggestions for a jury questionnaire, Elsenheimer said. The court will then consider and aggregate these into the final, and likely extensive, document sent to prospective jurors.
Damian Nunzio, who represents William Null, asked whether names and information about prospective jurors would be provided to the defense prior to voire dire. Elsenheimer confirmed that this information would be provided.
The judge also accepted a motion to withdraw, previously filed by former lead prosecutor, Sunita Doddamani, who left the AG’s office last week after accepting a job with the U.S. Department of Justice.
William A. Rollstin confirmed he is now the case’s lead prosecutor. Rollstin was among prosecutors who argued the case during the preliminary exam.
Rollstin said Monday the state also plans to file a motion seeking to admit as evidence statements by unindicted co-conspirators. The state successfully filed a similar motion in front of 86th District Court Judge Michael Stepka during the preliminary exam.
Several defense attorneys said Monday they planned to object to the use of these statements. That issue is closely connected to whether or not the men would be tried together, Elsenheimer said, and those written arguments are due to the court Feb. 3, he said.