DETROIT — Prosecutors at the trial of seven Michigan militia members displayed pictures and dramatic video of bombs ripping through a steel drum and cars Thursday, all demonstrations conducted by agents with explosive parts or diagrams linked to the group.
Defense attorneys had objected days earlier, claiming the images could have an improper "theatrical impact" on the jury. The judge allowed some, noting the tests were substantially similar to explosives at the heart of conspiracy charges against members of the Hutaree group.
This undated photo entered as court evidence and provided by the United States District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division in April 2010 shows alleged members of the Hutaree group in an unknown location. Identifications were added by the federal authorities. (AP Photo)
The militia group's poor operational security mitigated the threat they posed
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The jury heard loud booms and saw close-up photos of the impact of explosives on cars, a 55-gallon steel drum and plastic targets. The drum was ripped, and the cars bore large holes and severe damage under and inside the vehicles.
Members of the militia are charged with conspiring to rebel against the government, conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction and other weapons crimes. The government says they wanted to kill a police officer then attack the funeral as part of a domestic war. There was plenty of anti-government talk but no hard evidence of a specific time to strike someone -- a key point repeatedly the defense raised.
Prosecutors closed their case Thursday after more than five weeks of trial. Lawyers for the seven defendants, from Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, have suggested they'll need a week to present their side, starting next Tuesday.
The final witness was FBI agent Steve Haug who, while posing as a New Jersey trucker, joined the Hutaree and secretly recorded hours of conversations and video critical to the government's case. He was called back to the stand for a grilling by defense lawyers who wanted to raise doubts about his credibility.
Haug acknowledged he was suspended without pay for five days for signing another agent's name on an evidence package in 1996 in Newark, N.J. He had been with the FBI less than a year. It had nothing to do with the Michigan militia investigation.
"You know chain-of-custody issues can jeopardize a prosecution," said attorney James Thomas, who earlier said it was proof of Haug "cutting corners."
The government did not call Joshua Clough of Lenawee County, Mich., as a witness, the only Hutaree member to plead guilty since arrests in March 2010. He pleaded guilty to a firearm charge in December and admitted the militia's goal was to use bombs against local, state and federal authorities. He faces at least five years in prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Graveline declined to comment on why Clough wasn't part of the government's case. A ninth militia member faces his own separate trial.
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