DETROIT — Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping suspect Barry Croft Jr. doesn’t want the world to hear him talking about how God told him to commit an act of terrorism, or his intent to kidnap Michigan’s governor, court records show.

But the media is fighting for access to this information — and the prosecution says it supports releasing it.

In a new court filing, prosecutors on Tuesday said they do not object to releasing evidence that convinced a judge to order that Croft remain jailed pending trial, concluding he was a danger to society and could not be trusted to be free on bond.

Croft’s lawyers want that alleged evidence — audio recordings, videos and photographs — to remain sealed, but multiple media outlets argue the public has the right to see and hear them.

“This case involves a violent and ‘shocking crime’ — an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer from her vacation home and to frustrate responding law enforcement efforts by blowing up a nearby bridge,” lawyers for BuzzFeed have argued in court documents. “And, yet, the public has been deprived of a fair opportunity to consider that evidence for itself. It has been asked to accept what it has not been allowed to see.”

According to the government, here is some of what Croft does not want the public to hear:

“Croft expounds in an excited tone about his intent to commit acts of terrorism, and claims God has granted him permission to violate His (God’s) commandments,” prosecutors state in court records. “In one particular passage, Croft explicitly states his intent to kidnap Governor Whitmer — the primary offense with which he is charged.”

Croft was arrested in New Jersey last October on the same date as his Michigan cohorts, and has since been extradited to Michigan where he is locked up pending his scheduled October trial.

The media is fighting for the right to see and hear exhibits that were presented at Croft’s detention hearing on Jan. 13, when a judge denied him bond and ordered him jailed pending the outcome of his case.

Here are the exhibits that Croft wants to remain sealed:

—Photographs of Croft with a “boogaloo” flag, and another with a shotgun.

—Audio recordings of Croft at “militia” group meeting meeting in Ohio.

—Video recording of Croft firing a semiautomatic rifle at a field training exercise in Wisconsin.

—Audio recording of Croft at a training exercise in Wisconsin.

—A photograph of a highway bridge near Whitmer’s vacation home.

—A photograph of Croft’s modified semiautomatic rifle.

On March 9, BuzzFeed.com requested copies of the exhibits, though prosecutors noted that the defense had not consented to their release them and suggested that BuzzFeed raise the matter with the Court.

BuzzFeed did just that and cited a 1980 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that it says bolsters its argument. In that decision, the high court states:

“When a shocking crime occurs, a community reaction of outrage and public protest often follows. Thereafter the open processes of justice serve an important prophylactic purpose, providing an outlet for community concern, hostility, and emotion,” the decision states. “To work effectively, it is important that society’s criminal process “satisfy the appearance of justice,” and the appearance of justice can best be provided by allowing people to observe it.”

Prosecutors plan to show the exhibits in question to the jury in Croft’s trial. Croft fears releasing the exhibits now will taint the jury selection process. The prosecution disagrees.

“Because Croft’s trial is not until October, and the jury will be drawn from the thirty-four counties … such prejudice is unlikely here,” prosecutors wrote.

Media outlets argue that similar information has already been released involving Croft’s co-defendants and that there “is no rational basis” to distinguish Croft’s exhibits from those already made public.

Prosecutors are leaving the matter up to a judge.

“The government does not oppose production of the exhibits in question, if the Court concludes the benefit to the public outweighs other concerns, including the empanelment of a fair jury.”

Croft, 45, of Bear, Delaware, is one of 14 men charged last fall with being part of a plot to kidnap Whitmer and commit various acts of domestic terrorism. Six men are facing federal charges; eight are facing state charges.

Three defendants, including Croft, are facing weapons of mass destruction charges. The others are accused ringleader, Adam Fox, 40, of Wyoming, and Daniel Joseph Harris, 23, of Lake Orion.

All three are charged with plotting to blow up a bridge near Whitmer’s vacation home last fall to essentially hinder the governor’s security detail and any responding law enforcement officers. According to courtroom testimony, there was talk of a plan to leave Whitmer stranded on a boat in Lake Michigan — though the alleged plot never materialized.

Undercover informants and agents foiled the alleged plot after embedding themselves in the group, which reportedly met and schemed in the basement of a vacuum shop in the Grand Rapids area and held training exercises at various locations across the state.

Prosecutors allege that the defendants targeted Whitmer because they were angry over her pandemic stay-at-home orders and mask mandates. The suspects not only talked about kidnapping her, prosecutors have argued, but cased Whitmer’s vacation home multiple times, drew maps, and tried to buy explosives that would help them carry out their plan.

Defense lawyers have maintained that their clients were not part of any real plot to harm anyone, and that they were merely engaged in puffery and tough talk. They have argued that the government has produced only snippets of conversations in the case and that there is no evidence that the accused had any real plan to kidnap Whitmer.

They have said that it remains to be seen what roles the undercover informants and FBI agents played in the case, and whether they pushed the others into carrying out the plan, which in the end was foiled when FBI agents arrested five men during a setup.

On Oct. 6, five suspects were arrested near Ypsilanti while going to make what they thought was a down payment on explosives and other gear. When they arrived, FBI agents were waiting and arrested them.

To date, one federal defendant, Ty Garbin, 25, of Hartland Township, has cut a deal in the case. He pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer and faces up to life in prison for his conviction, though he has not yet been sentenced and is expected to testify against the others.

Copyright 2021 Tribune Content Agency.

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