Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Judge acquits Hutaree militia members of conspiracy charges

DETROIT – A federal judge Tuesday acquitted seven Hutaree members of all conspiracy charges, concluding the government didn't have enough evidence that the group plotted a violent revolt that included killing a police officer and bombing a funeral.

U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts dismissed all charges against five of the defendants. Illegal weapons charges remain against two defendants: the supposed ringleader, David Stone Sr., and his son Joshua Stone.
Defendants acquitted of all charges are Tina Stone, 46, and David Stone Jr., 22, both of Adrian, Mich.; Michael Meeks, 42, of Manchester, Mich; Thomas Piatek, 48, of Whiting, Ind.; and Kristopher Sickles, 29, of Sandusky, Ohio.
"We're just grateful to Judge Roberts for having the courage to do the right thing. … Very few judges have that kind of courage," said lawyer Michael Rataj, who is representing Tina Stone.
"There was no case. There was no conspiracy," Rataj said, further claiming the case was the result of overzealous federal agents.
In the 28-page decision, Roberts wrote: "The evidence is not sufficient for a rational factfinder to find that defendants came to a concrete agreement to forcibly oppose the authority of the government of the United States as charged in the indictment."
She said prosecutors shifted positions since the defendants were indicted; the indictment charges a specific plan to overthrow the United States government.
Prosecutors now argue that the group had a general plan to engage in violence to provoke a response from law enforcement, she said.
"The prosecution is not free to roam at large — to shift its theory of criminality so as to take advantage of each passing vicissitude of the trial," Roberts said. "If the government now admits that the plan alleged in Count 1 of the indictment (seditious conspiracy) did not exist, then defendants must be acquitted."
Gina Balaya, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office, said the prosecutor's office is going to withhold any comment until the end of the trial.
In court documents filed last week, prosecutors defended the charges, saying they had proof that a violent plan was in the works and that the government stopped it before it took effect.
"That there was no specific date, place, or target for this conflict — or that it was not certain whether the Hutaree intended to initiate the conflict or simply to engage in it once initiated by other forces is of no moment," Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sheldon Light and Christopher Graveline wrote. "The evidence supports the conclusion that there was a plan, an agreement, among these defendants and others to join in opposing by force the government of the United States when the time came."
Tuesday's acquittals come days after the government rested its case with videos of bomb explosions.
Those acquitted could have faced up to life in prison if convicted.


No comments: