DETROIT (AP) — Nearly two years after arrests, jury selection began Tuesday in a trial against seven people accused of conspiring to rebel against the government as members of a southern Michigan militia.
U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts asked potential jurors, one by one, for their opinions on the use of informants and secretly recorded audio and video, evidence that will be crucial to the government's case.
The seven — six men and one woman — are charged with seditious conspiracy. The government claims they trained on weekends to kill a police officer and plotted further strikes at the funeral. No officer was ever identified, however, and no one was ever attacked. The defendants say they're being prosecuted for stupid but free speech.
"These defendants are saying they didn't do anything illegal," Roberts told a prospective juror.
Trial could last six to eight weeks. The judge wants a final jury pool of 50 by next Monday before choosing 16 for the trial.
In March 2010, the FBI arrested six people in Michigan, two in Ohio and one in Indiana, all accused of belonging to a group called Hutaree. Only Joshua Clough of Blissfield, Mich., has pleaded guilty to a gun charge. Another defendant, Jacob Ward of Huron, Ohio, will have his own trial.
Besides the rebellion charge, the seven on trial also face weapons charges.
The judge promised extraordinary secrecy to prospective jurors. They are referred to only by a number in court, and only defense attorneys know any personal information about them, not the defendants.
Roberts told jury candidates she wanted to get a sense of their "common sense. It might be one of the most important tools you have."
The process was tedious. The first potential juror didn't say anything that would lead to his removal when asked about informants and the right to own guns. But lawyers agreed to excuse him when he disclosed after several minutes that his wife had arranged a vacation for late February.
Another potential juror had much to share. She said she had burned down her ex-husband's house in 1994 and was given probation. Court officials planned to check her criminal record to determine if she could serve on a jury.
"I'm not a bad person. I was beaten all the time. I just overreacted," she said of the arson.
The defendants are David Stone of Clayton, Mich.; wife Tina Mae Stone of Clayton, Mich.; David Stone Jr. of Adrian, Mich., and Joshua Stone of Lenawee County, Mich.; Michael Meeks of Manchester, Mich.; Thomas Piatek of Whiting, Ind.; and Kristopher Sickles of Sandusky, Ohio.