Thursday, April 19, 2018

Prosecutor: Midwest militia members were ready 'to go to war'

DETROIT — Displaying guns, vests and other military gear, a prosecutor told jurors Monday that members of a Midwest militia were willing "to go to war" in an extraordinary plot to kill a police officer as a springboard to a broader rebellion against the U.S. government.

Some of the evidence was placed directly in front of the jury box as the trial opened for seven members of a group called Hutaree who are charged with conspiring to commit sedition, as well as weapons crimes.

Still, defense attorneys dismissed any talk by the defendants as little more than fantasy and equated the group more to a "social club" than a militia.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Graveline said the anti-government Hutaree was looking for some type of conflict to trigger an attack — maybe a traffic stop, a search warrant or a dispute between authorities and another militia.

"They wanted to start an armed confrontation. … The war to them meant patriots rising up against the government," said Graveline, who held up automatic weapons and other items seized after nine people were arrested in southern Michigan, Indiana and Ohio in March 2010.

The defendants are accused of conspiring to someday kill a police officer, then attack the funeral procession with explosives and trigger a broader revolt against the U.S. government.

The government placed an undercover agent inside the Hutaree and also had a paid informant. More than 100 hours of audio and video were recorded.

Leader David Stone and the others listened closely at the start of a trial that could last six to eight weeks. Two defense attorneys offered an opening rebuttal to the government's introduction, telling jurors there was no specific plan to do any harm to anyone in authority.

Todd Shanker, attorney for David Stone Jr., acknowledged there are "offensive statements" on the recordings but said the words were "almost fantasy."

Of the original nine defendants, Joshua Clough of Blissfield, Mich., is the only one who has made a deal with prosecutors. He pleaded guilty in December to illegal use of a firearm, faces a mandatory five-year prison sentence and could be called as a witness to testify for the government.

Besides the Stones, the other defendants are Tina Mae Stone and Joshua Stone, both from Lenawee County, Mich.; Thomas Piatek of Whiting, Ind.; Michael Meeks of Manchester, Mich.; and Kristopher Sickles of Sandusky, Ohio. Jacob Ward of Huron, Ohio, will have a separate trial. Besides conspiracy charges, all face at least one firearm charge, and some face more.

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