DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – Nearly two years after their arrests, jury selection has begun in a trial against seven people accused of planning a violent overthrow of the U.S. government as members of the southern Michigan militia known as Hutaree.
District judge Victoria 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 defendants and their attorneys were in federal court Tuesday, watching as Roberts quizzed prospective jurors based on their responses to a questionnaire. They were asked for opinions on the right to bear arms, the use of undercover officers, paid informants and secret recordings of defendants conversations.
WWJ Newsradio 950’s Ron Dewey reported that all but one prospective juror said they had no preconceived notions about the means used by the government to obtain evidence, including undercover work, informants, secret recordings and video tapings of defendants. Others interviewed had no qualms about undercover work, calling it an excellent tool for law enforcement and could be necessary to reach the truth.
One woman said she had unfavorable experiences with the legal system based on family troubles, a bitter divorce and custody issues, though she was kept in the jury pool.
Another woman said she did have prejudices about the case from listening to news reports that made the defendants seem guilty, but she still insisted she could be impartial. Both sides agreed to excuse her.
Another potential juror had much to share. She said she had burned down her ex-husband’s house in 1994 and was given probation. “I’m not a bad person. I was beaten all the time. I just overreacted,” she said. Court officials planned to check her criminal record to determine if she could serve on a jury.
The seven Hutaree defendants, including 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.
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.
A final jury panel is expected to be seated Monday for a trial expected to last 6 to 8 weeks.
Speaking to WWJ earlier Tuesday, Wayne State University law professor Peter Hennings said the right to free speech will be an issue in the case. (More on this here).
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