GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Kaleb Franks, one of the star witnesses for the government, took the stand Thursday in the trial of four men accused of plotting to kidnap and kill Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Franks is one of two former defendants who agreed to testify against his alleged co-conspirators as part of a plea deal. He has not been sentenced yet.
Assistant prosecutor with the US Attorney's Office Jonathan Roth began his direct examination of Franks just after 12 p.m. on Thursday, asking why the 27-year-old got involved with the plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer.
After a short pause, Franks said, "I was hoping that I could be killed in the process... I didn't want to live.
Franks explained that he was going through a difficult time in the summer of 2020 after his mom, step-father, and step-brother all died in separate incidents.
"My life was slowly... um, quickly, going downhill," Franks later described.
When Roth asked him why he thought he would die in the execution of the alleged plot, he said, "I thought it was a very risky choice... and with cameras, and getting in a shoot out with police, in my opinion, you'd be bound to die."
Franks, who was given the nickname "Red Hot" by other group members, says he originally got involved with the guys because he wanted to learn how to use firearms.
He said on the stand that he was originally "not interested" in a plan involving kidnapping Governor Whitmer, but that he eventually changed his mind about that.
When Roth questioned Franks about the Wolverine Watchmen's specific beliefs about government, Franks explained, "they feel the government is too intrusive... over-reaching."
On the night of his arrest, Franks told investigators he had no involvement in the alleged plot. He later admitted he was involved.
At the time of his arrest in October 2020, Franks was working as an addiction recovery coach and resource worker.
The other former defendant who agreed to testify against his alleged co-conspirators is Ty Garbin. Garbin testified on Wednesday and the defense spent Thursday morning cross-examining him.
Garbin, 26, is currently serving a six-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to kidnap and agreeing to cooperate with the government on their case.
Franks has not yet been sentenced for his role in the alleged plot. He explained on the stand Thursday that he, unlike Ty Garbin, was made no promises about charges being reduced or dropped in exchange for his cooperation.
He did say in court Thursday that he hoped his cooperation would allow him to receive the "lowest sentence possible".
When asked why he eventually decided to accept a plea deal with prosecutors, he said it was because he "wanted to tell the truth."
Garbin ended up being sentenced to just over 6 years in prison but may have his time behind bars reduced even further if the government decides to file a Rule 35 motion following the completion of this trial.
On Thursday, Julia Kelley, attorney for defendant Daniel Harris, cross-examined Garbin. Garbin told the jury Harris was not on an often-mentioned nighttime surveillance trip to the governor’s vacation home. Garbin told the jury Harris told the group he “wasn’t feeling it.” He later told the group he wished he’d gone with them, said Garbin.
On Wednesday, the government played a video of Brandon Caserta at the trial, providing some context to his words. Prosecutors say in the video, Caserta described what he planned to do once the boogaloo kicked off.
"If this s*** goes down, if this whole thing starts to happen, I’m telling you what, dude, I’m taking out as many of those mother f****** as I can. Every single one, dude, every single one," Caserta can be heard saying in the video.
But on Thursday, Garbin said that despite the widely-spread video, Caserta didn’t speak much at meetings and didn’t participate in a surveillance trip to the governor’s home or field training in Ohio.
Joshua Blanchard, attorney for defendant Barry Croft, reminded the jury that Garbin had received a vastly reduced sentence for his cooperation with federal investigators. He noted the government had filed a 5-K motion on behalf of Garbin – a legal act that allows the government to ask a federal judge to reduce the sentence of a cooperating witness, with the agreement that the witness won’t face further charges due to their testimony.
Garbin also had a weapons of mass destruction charge, a destructive device charge, and a firearms charge related to his manufacturing and selling of so-called ‘ghost guns’ dropped.
Defense attorneys continue pushing that it was help from undercover government sources that pushed the plan along, not the men charged.