|Screenshot of U.S. Marshals Service photo of defendants; click to enlarge|
Compare the indictments:
-- Read the 12-page Hutaree indictment HERE.
-- Read the 24-page Schaeffer Cox indictment HERE.
The Detroit Free Press is live-blogging the opening statements HERE.
Similarities between the two cases:
-- Conspiracy Charges: Both cases revolve around a raft of conspiracy charges in which illegal acts were discussed and planned, but never executed. In neither case were law enforcement figures or other public officials ever harmed.
-- Weapons Charges: In both cases, defendants are accused of having illegal weapons and using legal weapons for illegal purposes.
-- Use of Snitches: Both cases involve the use of confidential informants sent in by the government to monitor and report on the groups. In the Hutaree case, one was actually an undercover federal agent, while the other was an informant. Like Gerald Olson in the Cox case, the informant in the Hutaree case is a "dirty" informant, having pleaded guilty in Michigan state court to firing a gun during a dispute with his wife and also attempted suicide. In both cases, the question will be raised as to whether or not the snitches also incited the groups to go further than they ordinarily would.
-- Audio Tapes: In both cases, the prosecution will present audio tapes allegedly recording the defense plotting "illegal acts" as part of their evidence package.
Differences between the two cases:
-- Bail: Conditional bail was granted to four of the nine Hutaree members. In contrast, no bail was granted to Schaeffer Cox or his cohorts.
-- No State Case: There is no competing state case in the Hutaree trial. In contrast, the State of Alaska once had its own competing case in the Schaeffer Cox situation, but abandoned it after a judge ruled audio tapes to be inadmissible. The Schaffer Cox jury could consider that development to weaken the federal case.
Background: Investigation of the Hutaree began in August 2008, after a confidential informant infiltrated the group and reported an attack appeared imminent. From March 28th to March 30th, 2010, nine people thought to be Hutaree militia members were arrested in police raids in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana for their alleged involvement in a plot to kill various police officers and possibly civilians using illegal explosives and/or firearms. Seven of the nine are currently on trial.
Defendants: The seven currently on trial are David Stone Sr., 47, of Clayton; his wife, Tina Stone, 46; his son, Joshua Stone, 24; his son, David B. Stone Jr., 22, of Adrian; Michael Meeks, 42, of Manchester; Thomas Piatek, 48, of Whiting, Ind., and Kristopher Sickles, 29, of Sandusky, Ohio. All are charged with seditious conspiracy, attempting to use weapons of mass destruction and possession of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence; if convicted, they all could get up to life in prison. The other two are Jacob Ward of Huron, Ohio, who was declared temporarily incompetent and who will have a separate trial later, and Joshua Clough of Blissfield, Mich., who pleaded guilty in December 2011 to illegal use of a firearm. He faces a mandatory five-year prison sentence and could be called as a witness to testify against the Hutaree in order to mitigate his sentence.
Prosecution Case: The Hutaree group is accused of plotting to kill a law enforcement officer and then bomb the subsequent funeral. The group also is accused of preparing a hit list of judges, business leaders, educators and others. Much of the evidence at trial will be secretly recorded statements and conversations between the accused Hutaree members and the two undercover operatives who infiltrated the group. Prosecutors will present evidence showing that Hutaree members received instructions on how to make and use weapons of mass destruction, and that one member obtained information online about explosives and e-mailed diagrams about the explosives to an undercover agent. Read the original FBI press release HERE.
Defense Case: Defense lawyers say the government's secret recordings prove nothing concrete. They maintain that just because the militia members were talking it doesn't mean any actual plans were under way to build bombs, use them, or to overthrow the government. They contend that the group's objectives included exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech, and training to survive and defend themselves and their families in the event of chaos or an invasion by anti-American forces, and that the alleged discussions about harming members of law enforcement are clearly constitutionally protected.
Prognosis: The outcome of the Hutaree trial will revolve around the audio tapes and the credibility of the informants. A victory for the feds here will strengthen their resolve to go through with the Schaeffer Cox trial.