6th Cir. blocks release of Hutaree defendants

DETROIT (AP) — A federal appeals court on Thursday issued an emergency stay blocking, at least temporarily, the release of nine jailed Michigan militia members accused of conspiring to overthrow the U.S. government.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati issued the stay shortly after the U.S. attorney’s office in Detroit filed a motion seeking the order. Defense attorneys had until 5 p.m. to respond.

The nine had been returned to U.S. District Court in Detroit to be processed for release until trial, but the appeals court halted those proceedings.

"They’re bad losers," defense attorney Mark Satawa told reporters after the hearing, referring to the government. "I fully expect that the 6th Circuit will resolve this quickly."

In a ruling late Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts said she would not further suspend her Monday order that releases the militia members with strict rules, including electronic monitoring and curfews.

"We don’t think the conditions are satisfactory," U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade told The Associated Press. "We think the defendants pose a danger to the public and to law enforcement in particular. It’s my duty to protect the safety of the public."

Roberts had ordered the militia members released Monday, then suspended her decision while prosecutors decided whether to appeal. They will appeal, but she was not persuaded to freeze the order any longer.

"Defendants are presumed innocent of all charges against them. … This presumption of innocence is part and parcel of why, ‘In our society liberty is the norm, and detention prior to trial or without trial is the carefully limited exception,’" Roberts wrote, quoting a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The members of the southern Michigan militia, called Hutaree, are charged with conspiracy to commit sedition, or rebellion, against the government and the attempted use of weapons of mass destruction. They have been in custody without bond since late March.

Prosecutors claim the suspects are too dangerous to be released from jail. But Roberts set many restrictions and appointed third-party custodians, mostly family members, to keep watch.

Many were at the courthouse Thursday waiting for their relatives to be released.

"One hundred miles for nothing," said Tina Stone’s father, 64-year-old Tim Kelley of North Adams, Mich., referring to his drive from Hillsdale County.

Stone, 44, the wife of militia leader David Stone, 44, of Clayton, Mich., has been ordered to stay with her father when she is released.

"It’s frustrating, to be sure. She thought she was going home," her attorney, Michael Rataj, said of the delay.

Since the series of raids and arrests about six weeks ago, Hutaree members have been portrayed by the government as homegrown extremists out to strike at authorities.

Roberts found that the secret recordings of militia members by an undercover agent contained "offensive and hate-filled speech," but nothing that signaled a conspiracy to levy war against the government.

"The defendants laugh, make sounds and appear to talk over one another," Roberts said, referring to a Feb. 20 recording. "There is also a discussion of strippers."

Prosecutors have said allowing the militia members to go free pending trial would endanger the public.

"If the defendants were to flee or to cause even a fraction of the harm they have repeatedly and fervently spoken of and planned for, no ruling by the 6th Circuit could undo that damage," Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald Waterstreet said in a court filing Wednesday.

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Hutaree defense picks away at gov’t case during bond hearing

DETROIT (AP) — An FBI agent who led the investigation of nine Michigan militia members charged with trying to launch war against the U.S. couldn’t recall many details of the two-year probe Tuesday during a grilling by defense lawyers.

Even the judge who must decide whether to release the nine until trial was puzzled.

"I share the frustrations of the defense team … that she doesn’t know anything," U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts said after agent Leslie Larsen confessed she hadn’t reviewed her notes recently and couldn’t remember specific details of the case.

Roberts is hearing an appeal of another judge’s order that has kept members of Hutaree in jail since their arrest in late March.

The indictment says the nine planned to kill police officers as a steppingstone to a widespread uprising against the government. Defense lawyers, however, say their clients are being punished for being outspoken.

Prosecutors fought to keep Larsen off the witness stand, saying the defendants had no legal right to question her. But the judge said the agent’s appearance was appropriate because the burden is on defense lawyers to show their clients won’t be a threat to the public if released.

The nine lawyers asked specific questions about each defendant. Larsen said she had not listened entirely to certain recordings made by an undercover agent who infiltrated the group.

She said she didn’t know if weapons seized by investigators last month were illegal because they were still being examined. At other times, Larsen couldn’t answer questions because she said she hadn’t reviewed investigative reports.

Defense lawyer William Swor asked if the No. 1 defendant, Hutaree leader David Stone, had ever instructed anyone to make a bomb. The agent replied: "I can’t fully answer that question."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tukel defended Larsen, telling the judge it wasn’t clear until Monday that she would testify. Roberts, however, said she told the government to be prepared last week.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald Waterstreet played an audiotape of what he said were several militia members talking freely about killing police. The participants talked over each other, often laughed and made goofy noises and disparaging remarks about law enforcement.

Defense lawyer James Thomas said some exchanges sounded "like a 6-year-old watching a cartoon." Larsen disagreed.

"They’re talking about killing police officers. I don’t think you can joke about that," the agent replied.

Prosecutors objected to questions about interpreting the secretly recorded conversations, but the judge said they were fair game.

"A lot of this case is going to be about the spoken word," Roberts said.

The judge will resume the court hearing Wednesday. Prosecutors will have a chance to question people who are willing to be responsible for some of the nine if they are released from jail.

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Hutaree militia charged with conspiracy to kill police officers

The mystery surrounding the raid on the Midwest Christian extremist militias is over.

DETROIT (AP) — Nine suspects tied to a Midwest Christian militia that was preparing for the Antichrist were charged with conspiring to kill police officers, then attack a funeral using homemade bombs in the hopes of killing more law enforcement personnel, federal prosecutors said Monday.

The Michigan-based group, called Hutaree, planned to use the attack on police as a catalyst for a larger uprising against the government, according to newly unsealed court papers. U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said agents moved on the group because its members were planning a violent mission sometime in April.

Members of the group, including its leader, David Brian Stone, also known as "Captain Hutaree," were charged following FBI raids over the weekend on locations in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.

The idea of attacking a police funeral was one of numerous scenarios discussed as ways to go after law enforcement officers, the indictment said. Other scenarios included a fake emergency call to lure an officer to his or her death, or an attack on the family of a police officer.

Once other officers gathered for a slain officer’s funeral, the group planned to detonate homemade bombs at the funeral, killing more, according to the indictment.

After such attacks, the group allegedly planned to retreat to "rally points" protected by trip-wired improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, for what they expected would become a violent standoff with law enforcement personnel.

"It is believed by the Hutaree that this engagement would then serve as a catalyst for a more wide-spread uprising against the government," the indictment charges.

According to investigators, the Hutaree view local, state, and federal law enforcement personnel as a "brotherhood" and an enemy, and planned to attack them as part of an armed struggle against the U.S. government.

The indictment charges members of the group conspired "to levy war against the United States, (and) to oppose by force the authority of the government of the United States."

Eight suspects have been arrested by the FBI, and one more is being sought. Of the eight captured, seven were arraigned Monday in Detroit and ordered held pending a bond hearing Wednesday.

The charges against the eight include seditious conspiracy, possessing a firearm during a crime of violence, teaching the use of explosives, and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction — homemade bombs.

All seven defendants in court on Monday requested to be represented by the federal defender’s office.

The arrests have dealt "a severe blow to a dangerous organization that today stands accused of conspiring to levy war against the United States," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday.

The case "is an example of radical and extremist fringe groups which can be found throughout our society. The FBI takes such extremist groups seriously, especially those who would target innocent citizens and the law enforcement officers who protect the citizens of the United States," said Andrew Arena, head of the FBI’s field office in Detroit.

Stone’s ex-wife, Donna Stone, told The Associated Press before the arraignments that her former husband was to blame for pulling her son into the Hutaree movement. She said David Brian Stone legally adopted her son, David Brian Stone Jr., who is among those indicted. She said the marriage lasted about 10 years.

"It started out as a Christian thing," said Donna Stone, 44. "You go to church. You pray. You take care of your family. I think David started to take it a little too far. He dragged a lot of people with him."

Another son of David Brian Stone, Joshua Matthew Stone, is also indicted and currently a fugitive, said Detroit FBI spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold.

On its Web site, Hutaree quotes several Bible passages and states: "We believe that one day, as prophecy says, there will be an Anti-Christ. … Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment." There’s also a picture on the site of 17 camouflaged men, all holding large guns.

The group didn’t return an e-mail sent by The Associated Press, and attempts by telephone to reach the Stones went unanswered.

FBI agents in Michigan swarmed a rural, wooded property Saturday evening in Adrian, about 70 miles (115 kilometers) southwest of Detroit. That same night in Hammond, Indiana, law enforcement agents flooded a neighborhood, startling workers at a nearby pizzeria. And in Ohio authorities blocked off streets and raided two homes.

Outside Adrian, two ramshackle trailers sat side-by-side on Stone’s property. A long gun leaned against a washing machine that sat in the yard, and on top of a nearby canister was another long gun.

Heidi Wood, who lives near the property, said Monday morning she hears gunshots "all the time."

Her mother, Phyllis Brugger, who has lived in the area for more than 30 years, said Stone and his family were known as having ties to militia. They would shoot guns and often wore camouflage, the women said.

"Everybody knew they were militia," Brugger said. "You don’t mess with them."