Three men to be sentenced in plot to kidnap Michigan governor

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. local time in Jackson County Circuit Court.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer welcomes Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden  (photo credit: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID)
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer welcomes Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden
(photo credit: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID)

Three men convicted of playing supporting roles in a foiled plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan in 2020 are set to be sentenced on Thursday, as two of the conspiracy's ringleaders await sentencing before the end of the month.

The men - Joseph Morrison, 28, his father-in-law Pete Musico, 44, and Paul Bellar, 23 - each face up to 20 years in prison after a jury in October found them guilty of gang membership, firearm violations and providing material support for terrorism.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. local time in Jackson County Circuit Court.

The verdict was a victory for state prosecutors who argued that the defendants assisted two other men who in August were found guilty in federal court of orchestrating the kidnapping conspiracy.

Defense attorneys argued their clients did not know of a plan to kidnap the governor and that their actions were protected by the First and Second Amendments of the US Constitution.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks during a news conference after thirteen people, including seven men associated with the Wolverine Watchmen militia group, were arrested for alleged plots to take Whitmer hostage and attack the state capitol building, in Lansing, Michigan, U.S., October 8, 20 (credit: REUTERS)Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks during a news conference after thirteen people, including seven men associated with the Wolverine Watchmen militia group, were arrested for alleged plots to take Whitmer hostage and attack the state capitol building, in Lansing, Michigan, U.S., October 8, 20 (credit: REUTERS)

The three men were among more than a dozen men arrested in October 2020 and charged with state or federal crimes by prosecutors who say they participated in a conspiracy plan to abduct Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Frustration with COVID-19 restrictions 

The plot was born in part from their frustrations over restrictions the Democratic governor imposed on residents and businesses during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group planned to break into Whitmer's vacation home, kidnap her and take her at gunpoint to stand "trial" on treason charges, prosecutors said.

The conspirators hoped that an abduction would lead to a violent uprising and instigate a civil war, prosecutors said.

Seven of the accused, including Morrison, Musico and Bellar, have now been convicted by a jury or pleaded guilty to playing roles in the conspiracy. Two others were acquitted of federal charges at a trial in April.

In August, two alleged militia men accused of conspiring to trigger a "second American revolution" in the kidnapping plot were found guilty of kidnapping conspiracy charges. Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr. were convicted at a retrial after the first trial in the spring ended with a hung jury. Two other defendants were acquitted during those proceedings.

Fox and Croft are scheduled to be sentenced later this month. They face the possibility of life in prison.

Morrison and Musico were accused of hosting tactical training sessions on their property in a remote part of Michigan. Bellar was accused of providing plans for tactical maneuvers, coded language for covert communication and ammunition.

All three were members of a militia group called the Wolverine Watchmen, prosecutors said.