Prosecutors raised concerns Wednesday about a female juror who apparently has been smiling at one of three men on trial in connection with a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020.
Judge Thomas Wilson said he, too, noticed it and pledged to pay “close attention” to the juror. He said the expressions didn’t appear to be a reaction to testimony.
“She is in my direct view,” Wilson said. “So I am often looking right at her while I’m listening to the witness testify. … I’ve seen smiles come out of her face. Not great big smiles but more of a small smirk.”
The juror has been looking at Paul Bellar, 24, who was a member of a paramilitary group, the Wolverine Watchmen. Bellar, Joe Morrison and Pete Musico are charged in state court in Jackson, Michigan, with providing material support for a terrorist act.
They’re accused of aligning with Adam Fox and others who were convicted in federal court with conspiring to kidnap Whitmer. Bellar, Morrison and Musico are not charged with having a direct role in the plot but were among the 14 people arrested in 2020.
The trial has lasted eight days so far, including six days of testimony by an FBI agent.
“Since the start of the trial — and we’re prepared to offer sworn testimony on this from two different witnesses — there’s been nonverbal communication” between a juror and Bellar, said Assistant Attorney General Bill Rollstin.
He suggested that Bellar sent a signal Wednesday by clenching his fists and shaking them in an “affirmative way.”
But Bellar’s attorney, Andrew Kirkpatrick, said that was a misinterpretation: Bellar was excited because the lawyer had offered him Skittles candy for his birthday.
“Maybe she likes him. Maybe she doesn’t like him,” Kirkpatrick said of the juror. “There’s no way of telling what’s in a juror’s mind and what exactly she’s doing or thinking.”
Musico’s attorney, Kareem Johnson, said claims of flirtatious behavior are “just sexist.”
“This is a juror that both sides agreed upon,” he said. “She is supposed to judge the witnesses and judge the defendants. She’s got to look over here.”
White reported from Detroit.