A judge has removed a young woman from the jury for the trial of three men in connection with the 2020 plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer after attorneys accused her of flirting with one of the defendants.
Judge Thomas Wilson announced Friday that the woman has been removed from the jury, two days after attorneys raised concerns that the juror was having too much nonverbal communication with defendant Paul Bellar, the Jackson Citizen Patriot reported.
“It didn’t happen just one day, it happened over several days,” Wilson said of the juror’s behavior. “I decided it’s safer to err on the side of caution.”
Wilson said he had never seen such behavior in nearly 35 years of practicing law. The juror made the decision well, she said.
Bellar, 24, a member of the Wolverine Watchmen paramilitary group, is on trial along with co-defendants Joseph Morrison and Pete Musico. All three face charges in state court in Jackson, Michigan, of providing material support for the commission of a terrorist act. The men have pleaded not guilty, claiming they were duped by an FBI informant and those giving him instructions.
Lawyers for the defendants opposed jury separation.
“There was no verbal communication between the two, and descriptions of the communication are speculative,” said Kareem Johnson, who represents Musico.
William Rollstin, who is handling the case for Michigan’s attorney general, raised concerns about the juror with Wilson during a meeting Wednesday.
“Since the beginning of the trial … there has been non-verbal communication between a juror — a woman — and Mr. Bellar,” Rollstin said. “Communication has been in the form of eye contact (and) smiling at each other.”
Several other people in the courtroom, including Wilson and Bellar’s attorney, Andrew Kirkpatrick, also said they had seen interactions between the two since the trial began.
Authorities have said disgust over Whitmer’s coronavirus restrictions inspired the defendants to form an alliance with others plotting to kidnap the Democratic governor and spark a national revolt shortly before the 2020 presidential election.
Two other men, Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr, were convicted in August of federal crimes in connection with the plot.