DETROIT (WWJ/AP) - A Michigan militia member facing a mandatory five years in prison on a weapons charge got a major break Wednesday when a federal judge allowed him to scratch a prior plea deal and plead guilty to a lesser crime.
The development resulted from last week’s acquittal of seven members of the Hutaree militia who were charged with conspiring to use force against the U.S. Prosecutors alleged the members plotted to kill a police officer as a springboard to a broader rebellion against the government, but the judge decided there wasn’t enough evidence after a six-week trial.
Joshua Clough was the only member to make a deal before trial, pleading guilty in December to an enhanced weapons charge that automatically meant five years in prison. He had feared an even longer punishment if he gambled with other charges and was convicted at trial.
But after a judge cleared Clough’s allies of the most serious conspiracy charges on March 27, defense attorney Randall Roberts explored whether his client could get a new deal. Prosecutors did not object.
“We’re ecstatic,” Roberts said outside court. “Justice was done. We appreciate the government making this adjustment. They absolutely could have fought us. I commend them for doing the right thing.”
Clough, 30, of Blissfield in Lenawee County pleaded guilty Wednesday to possessing a homemade machine gun and was immediately released on bond, after two years in jail. He will likely face no additional prison time when he returns to court on Aug. 8.
When he first pleaded guilty, Clough signed a document in which he said Hutaree’s goals included using bombs against local, state and federal authorities. But after listening to six weeks of testimony and evidence, U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts agreed with defense attorneys that there was much talk but no proof of a conspiracy to use force against the government.
U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said her office agreed to a new deal with Clough because he deserved the benefit of the judge’s ruling. Clough never was called as a trial witness for the government.
“I don’t trust a militia man to build my case around,” McQuade said last week after the government’s case was dismissed.
After being acquitted on the most serious charges, Hutaree leader David Stone and his son, Joshua Stone, each pleaded guilty to possessing a machine gun. After spending two years in jail, they also will be sentenced on Aug. 8.
TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.