Judge tosses militia conspiracy charges
Says group’s police-hating words didn’t equal anti-government plot
DETROIT | A federal judge dismissed the most serious charges Tuesday against seven members of a Michigan militia who were rounded up as homegrown extremists accused of plotting war against the U.S. The judge said their expressed hatred of law enforcement didn’t amount to conspiracy against the government.
The decision is an embarrassment for the government, which planted an informant and an FBI agent inside the Hutaree militia four years ago and claimed members were armed for war in rural southern Michigan.
U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts granted requests for acquittal on the most serious charges: conspiring to commit sedition, or rebellion, against the U.S. and conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction. Other weapons crimes tied to the supposed conspiracies also were dismissed.
“There are very few judges that have this kind of courage,” defense attorney Michael Rataj said.
The trial, which began Feb. 13, will resume this week with only a few gun charges remaining against militia leader David Stone and his son, Joshua Stone, both from Lenawee County, Mich.
“The court is aware that protected speech and mere words can be sufficient to show a conspiracy. In this case, however, they do not rise to that level,” Judge Roberts said.
Prosecutors said Hutaree members were anti-government rebels who combined training and strategy sessions to prepare for a violent strike against federal law enforcement, triggered first by the slaying of a police officer.
But there never was an attack. Defense attorneys say highly offensive remarks about police and the government were wrongly turned into a high-profile criminal case that drew public praise from U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who called Hutaree a “dangerous organization.”
David Stone’s “statements and exercises do not evince a concrete agreement to forcibly resist the authority of the United States government,” Judge Roberts said Tuesday. “His diatribes evince nothing more than his own hatred for — perhaps even desire to fight or kill — law enforcement; this is not the same as seditious conspiracy.”
U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade declined to comment. Two years ago, when militia members were arrested, she said it was time to “take them down.”
The FBI had put a local informant, Dan Murray, inside the Hutaree in 2008 and subsequently added an agent from New Jersey, Steve Haug. Known as “Jersey Steve,” he posed as a trucker and spent months secretly recording talks with David Stone. He even served as best man at David Stone’s wedding. The wedding party dressed in military fatigues.
David Stone was recorded saying he was willing to kill police and even their families. He considered them part of a “brotherhood” — a sinister global authority that included federal law enforcers and United Nations troops.
Militia members cleared of all charges were David Stone’s wife, Tina Stone, and his son, David Stone Jr.; Thomas Piatek of Whiting, Ind.; Michael Meeks of Manchester, Mich.; and Kris Sickles of Sandusky, Ohio. David Stone, Joshua Stone, Mr. Piatek and Mr. Meeks have been in custody without bond for two years.