Judge concerned that juror is flirting with defendant in Whitmer kidnap trial

A juror in the third Gretchen Whitmer kidnap trial is under scrutiny over concerns she is flirting with one of the defendants, smiling at him from the jury box and looking at him frequently — so frequently that the judge said he’s going to keep an eye on her .

“I see her looking directly at your client, and a number of times I’ve seen smiles coming out of her face. It’s enough that it’s drawing my attention,” Jackson County Circuit Judge Thomas Wilson told the defendant’s lawyer, adding “I’ m going to be paying close attention. … I don’t know if I’m going to kick her off or not.”

The defendant at issue is 22-year-old Paul Bellar of Milford, the youngest defendant charged in the sensational domestic terrorism case that is now playing out in state court after four defendants were previously convicted, and two others acquitted in federal court.

Paul Bellar sits in the courtroom of Judge Thomas Wilson at the Jackson County Circuit Court in Jackson on Feb. 23, 2022. Bellar and two other defendants were in court during a hearing about the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping plot they were allegedly involved in.

Smiles and Skittles

A prosecutor raised the issue during a trial break on Wednesday, telling the judge that not only is the juror flirting with Bellar, but it appears he may be flirting back. They smile and nod at each other, the prosecutor said, adding that Bellar at one point actuated both his fists and shook them in an affirmative way while the juror was looking at him.

“We’re very concerned about this juror,” the prosecutor said.

Bellar’s attorney conceded that he, too, had seen the two exchange glances. But he had an explanation for why Bellar was seen shaking his fists.

He was holding Skittles candy in his hand, his lawyer said.

“The shaking of the fist is because of Skittles …. ’cause guess what? It’s his birthday today,” defense attorney Andrew Kirkpatrick said, adding that his client is behaving himself.

“I have noticed her kind of looking. He knows. But he’s not winning at her. He’s not doing anything to encourage her,” Kirkpatrick said. “I don’t think that’s a basis to get rid of this juror. … Maybe she likes him — maybe she doesn’t. There’s no way of telling what’s in the juror’s mind.”

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‘She’s supposed to look over there’

Defense lawyers for the other two defendants also objected to tossing the juror over the flirting allegations, with one calling the claims sexist.

“Simply because a young woman is looking over here — (concluding) it must be some flirtation involvement is just sexist,” said defense lawyer Kareem Johnson, who is representing Pete Musico. “People have laughed during this trial. People have smiled during this trial. … I completely object to the court even addressing the juror. She’s supposed to look over here.”

Defense attorney Leonard Ballard, who is representing Joe Morrison, also argued against the judge interviewing the juror, calling such an interrogation “egregious.”

“Where’s the basis for saying she’s gonna lie? Because she’s a woman? Because she’s young?” Ballard said.

The judge could interview the juror privately and ask her about her actions — which was done in the federal trial when news of a potentially rogue juror surfaced. But he said he would hold off on any such action.

FBI agent Henrik Impola testifies during the Gov.  Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping plot at the Jackson County Circuit Court in Jackson on Feb.  23, 2022.

FBI agent Henrik Impola testifies during the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping plot at the Jackson County Circuit Court in Jackson on Feb. 23, 2022.

The prosecution, meanwhile, is on edge as the trial has now stretched into day eight. The government’s star witness who cracked the case, an undercover informant known as Big Dan, is next on the stand. Big Dan’s handler, FBI agent Henrik Impola, was on the stand for seven days before being excused midday Wednesday.

Morrison, Musico and Bellar are charged with providing material support for a terrorist act, including kidnapping the governor and killing law enforcement. They were members of the Wolverine Watchmen, a self-described militia group that trained near Jackson.

They are not charged with directly participating in the kidnapping scheme, only with helping train the key players in that plot, which was foiled by the FBI in October 2020 with the help of undercover informants and agents who had infiltrated the group.

Testimony resumes at 9 am Thursday.

Contact Tresa Baldas: tbaldas@freepress.com

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Judge fears juror is flirting with defendant in Whitmer kidnap trial

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