George Zimmerman and these people walk free, but the state executed Troy Davis. The reasons why should be obvious – nationalism and racism.
— Red Phoenix Editorial Staff
By Robert Snell and Christine Ferrett
Detroit— A federal judge acquitted seven members of the Hutaree militia Tuesday of the most serious charges following six weeks of testimony in a high-profile terror case.
On the second anniversary of the Hutaree arrests, U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts granted a defense motion to acquit the militia members on seven charges, including seditious conspiracy and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction. The most serious charge could have resulted in life prison sentences.
She ordered the trial to continue against Hutaree leader David Stone Sr. and his son, Joshua Stone, on weapons-related charges.
“Wow. Wow,” Joshua Stone’s lawyer, James C. Thomas, said, adding he will move to have his client released on bond. “We’re extremely elated.”
The judge said the government’s case was built largely on circumstantial evidence.
“While this evidence could certainly lead to a rational fact-finder to conclude that ‘something fishy’ was going on, it does not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendants reached a concrete agreement to forcibly oppose the United States government,” Roberts wrote.
The judge’s order cannot be appealed, said Peter Henning, a former prosecutor and current law professor at Wayne State University. That would constitute double jeopardy.
“Ultimately, this was a case that was all talk and no action,” Henning said. “This is a blow to the government. They put a lot of resources into this case. It demonstrates how difficult it is to prove conspiracy cases that have not advanced very far.”
The government declined comment on the acquittals.
William Swor, the attorney for David Stone Sr., Tuesday afternoon said, “We’re grateful,” adding he hasn’t had time to fully review the judge’s order.
“We’re happy for our client. This shows that judges do listen. It shows that the truth does come out,” Swor said. “What happens from here, I have to sit and read the opinion. Tomorrow morning I will show up in court with my client and we’ll see where we go from there.”
Swor said Stone Sr. has been incarcerated for exactly two years and will remain in custody because several charges against him still stand. The attorney added he plans to file a motion requesting bond.
The acquittals marked a setback for prosecutors, who accused the militia members of plotting to kill police officers and spark an uprising against the U.S. government.
Defense lawyers said there was no specific plan and framed the case as a First Amendment fight, downplaying the militia’s intent and sophistication.
“David Stone was exercising his God-given right to blow off steam and open his mouth,” Swor told jurors during opening statements Feb 13.
The acquittals came six weeks after the trial started and two years after the FBI busted the Lenawee County-based group.
Defense attorneys sought acquittals Monday, saying prosecutors failed to show proof of a conspiracy to commit rebellion. They admitted there was plenty of offensive talk about police and the government but said all was protected by the First Amendment.
Tina Stone’s attorney, Michael A. Rataj, praised Roberts on Tuesday for “making the right decision.”
“My hat goes off to Judge Roberts, who had the courage to make the right decision despite a case that garnered a lot of publicity,” he said. “The government had their dog and pony show about how dangerous these people were and they knew these people weren’t dangerous. It’s a great day for our clients and for the First and Second Amendment.”
Rataj said Tina Stone, who has been out of jail on a $10,000 personal bond, couldn’t believe the case against her had been dismissed.
“She asked, ‘Are you lying to me?'” he said.
Roberts on Monday signaled that it was a tough decision. Near the end of the day, she said it’s unclear how speech “crossed the line” into something criminal.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sheldon Light conceded Monday there was no proof of a “specific plan” to attack the government. But he said there was much evidence in secretly recorded conversations to show the Hutaree militia wanted to draw in federal law enforcement by killing local authorities.
“I would not agree that there had to be a plan for a widespread uprising to constitute the conspiracy charge,” Light said. Militia members were charged with conspiring to commit rebellion, or sedition, against the government and other crimes.
There was no actual attack before they were rounded up in March 2010. On Monday, the judge sharply questioned Light about defendant Tina Stone, the wife of Hutaree leader David Stone.
There’s no dispute she was present and sometimes spoke during hours of conversations secretly recorded by an undercover FBI agent, but she doesn’t appear to be a consistent participant.Roberts said prosecutors seem to believe that someone can be charged with conspiracy unless they actively disagree with the plot. “So much of this case is about people being present. … Many things the defendants said are quite offensive. But so what?” the judge said Monday.
Michael Meeks’ attorney, Mark Satawa, credited the judge Tuesday.
“This case was troubling from the very beginning,” he said. “It was troubling during trial. It was troubling when we fought over bond and even troubling at the end.”
Meeks, now 42, smiled and embraced his attorney and supporters as he waited for his parents and brother outside the courthouse.
“Two years later, I still don’t know what I did wrong,” he said. “I’m just happy to be out and breathing fresh air.”
The former Marine said he’s looking forward to having some “decent food” and meeting his 1-year-old nephew.
Meeks said he plans to temporarily live with his parents in Manchester and hopes to return to his job at a recycling facility in Adrian.
When asked what he wanted to tell the public about his experience, he replied, “Watch what you say. Even the most innocent of statements can be bent. If they want to get you, they get you.”
He added, “As far as I can tell, I got hosed. I’m just happy not to be in jail for the rest of my life.”
Meeks’ mother, Sylvia, said the ordeal has been a roller coaster ride for the family.
“I stood here two years ago and said I believe in the system and the truth will come out and it has,” she said. “I’m just glad it’s over and we can start our lives where we left off. It’s been a long time coming. It’s time to get him home.”
Thomas Piatek, 48, remained quiet Tuesday and declined to comment. His attorney, Arthur Jay Weiss, said the allegations prosecutors made against the defendants “never materialized” and they’ll never get the wasted years back.
“(Piatek) has been locked up for two years and doesn’t know where to go to get those two years back,” Weiss asked.
Piatek’s older brothers, Steven, 60, and Stanley, 55, traveled from Indiana to take their younger brother home “We are proud of him,” Stanley Piatek said. “We’re very happy he’s being released.”
Hutaree member Joshua John Clough, formerly of Blissfield Township, pleaded guilty in December and will spend at least five years in federal prison on a charge of using a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. He had faced up to life in prison, but reached a plea deal with prosecutors.
In July, Roberts ruled that accused Hutaree member Jacob Ward of Huron, Ohio, is incompetent to stand trial and ordered him to undergo treatment.
Christopher Seikaly, a Southfield-based attorney representing Ward, said his client was not part of the motion for acquittal, but he expects the case against Ward will be dropped as well.
“He was not part of this motion, but it will probably impact him,” he said. “I can’t see how they can try him if the others were acquitted.”
The Associated Press contributed.
Categories: Government, Racism, Reactionary Watch, U.S. News
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