What do we know about the jurors in Governor Whitmer’s kidnapping trial?
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A foster family manager, a plastics plant manager and an IT worker are among 12 jurors and four alternates hearing testimony at the trial of four men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020.
As a security measure, U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker in Grand Rapids only allowed attorneys to see jurors’ names and their written questionnaires. But the jurors – referred to in court by assigned numbers – discussed their backgrounds during the public portion of jury selection.
Here’s a look at the jurors and what they said:
WHAT JOBS DO JURIES DO?
Not all of them mentioned their profession. Among those who did was Juror #163, who is a casino compliance officer. Juror #227 is a project manager in a printing company. Juror #69 said she was a retiree who ran a sewing business.
The foster family manager is juror #211, the IT worker is #115, and the plastics factory manager is #201.
HAVE THE JURORS HEARED THE CASE?
All said they had heard at least something. Knowledge of the case was not an automatic disqualification, but those who said they did not follow the news obsessively were more likely to serve on the jury.
When asked if he was monitoring the news, the IT employee replied, “I don’t know.” Juror 14 told the judge that she never followed the news. And juror No. 169 described herself as a “news junkie”, but added that she usually just read the headlines.
A prospective juror said he had been following the case closely, adding: “I think they are guilty. ” He was fired. So did someone who said he heard colleagues “supporting” the defendants.
WHAT ABOUT THEIR POLICY?
Jurors who said they had no strong political opinions or feelings about Whitmer were more likely to be impaled.
Juror #14 told the judge that she “doesn’t get into politics”, while Juror #161 said she was “in the middle of the road, politically”. The retiree said her husband had more opinions than her on politics, but she could “mute him” for the duration of the trial.
Several pool members were fired after saying they disliked Whitmer. So was a woman who described herself as a fan of the governor. A man who said he “didn’t trust the government” was also released.
The group of more than 50 prospective jurors came from a 22-county region of western Michigan that is largely rural, Republican and conservative.
The judge did not ask the candidates about former President Donald Trump. The defendants are accused of hatching their plot in 2020 as Whitmer exchanged taunts with Trump over pandemic restrictions. She later said Trump was complicit in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
WHAT ABOUT WEAPONS?
Jonker asked prospective jurors if they owned guns, ostensibly to find out if they had strong prejudices against guns. Some trial evidence includes photos of the defendants with legally owned firearms.
When he asked about 20 potential jurors how many guns they owned, nearly all raised their hands.
Juror No. 69, the retiree, later said there were no guns in her home, but she had no problem with them. The manager of the plastics factory was among those who said he had several weapons, including an assault rifle.
WHAT ABOUT JURY DEMOGRAPHICS?
Ten jurors are women. Six are male. The court declined to release information about their races. The judicial district is predominantly white.
CAN WE READ SOMETHING IN THE BEHAVIOR OF THE JURORS?
The jurors sometimes appeared fully engaged, taking detailed notes. But as the testimonies turned into hard-to-follow details, some put their notebooks aside and sank back into their chairs.
Jonker apparently acknowledged that jurors were struggling to stay engaged on Monday and gave them a pep talk.
“It can become… a chore,” he said of the level of detail in the trial. He explained that prosecutors and defense attorneys were laying “bricks and mortar” and it would later become clear where the details fit into their competing narratives.
The jurors sit facing the defendants. The judge ordered buntings to be hung from the defense tables to conceal the defendants’ leg restraints after their lawyers said the sight of the restraints could cause jurors to conclude the men are dangerous and influence the verdict.
WHAT ELSE DID THE JUDGE TELL THE JURORS?
During jury selection, he said this was not “an ordinary case” and would require extra effort and time to ensure the trial was conducted “in a fair manner”.
One person in the pool, a professional glass blower, shook his head when the judge said the trial could last six weeks. He was fired. So did a long-haul truck driver who complained that he lost $2,000 just by appearing as a juror.
WAS ANYONE FIRED AFTER THE TRIAL STARTED?
Juror No. 143, the only juror who expressed enthusiasm about serving on the jury, was released two weeks after testifying. He had come down with a bug in his stomach, the judge said. Previously, Juror No. 162 was removed from duty after calling in sick. Four alternates remain.
Find full AP coverage of the Whitmer Kidnap Plot Trial at: https://apnews.com/hub/whitmer-kidnap-plot-trial
Associated Press reporters John Flesher in Traverse City, Michigan, and Ed White in Detroit contributed to this story.
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