- Nine members of the Hutaree militia were arrested in 2010
- Federal authorities charged they were conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction
- This week, a judge dropped the most serious charges
- A trial resumes Thursday with two of the nine facing weapons charges
The trial against members of the so-called Hutaree militia resumes Thursday as the Michigan-based group's leader David Stone Sr. and his son, Joshua, face weapons charges.
The stakes, however, are considerably lower after a federal judge in Detroit on Tuesday dropped the more serious charges of sedition and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction against the government. The directed verdict cleared several of the original nine defendants of all charges.
Federal authorities accused the nine members of the "Christian warrior" militia of homegrown terrorism. The FBI planted a secret informant and FBI agent in the militia in 2008 to record the activities of the group. The video and audio recordings became the crux of the federal case, including clips of the elder Stone making anti-government statements and remarks about killing police officers.
The defendants all faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.
But in a trial that began in early February, federal district Judge Victoria Roberts said she did not find that the government's evidence sufficiently proved that the Hutaree militia had planned a conspiracy against the government.
"The Government's case is built largely of circumstantial evidence," Roberts explained Tuesday in her 28-page ruling. "While this evidence could certainly lead a rational fact finder to conclude that 'something fishy' was going on, it does not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendants reached a concrete agreement to forcibly oppose the United States Government."
"Pick a sentence here, pick a sentence there -- the (remarks were) taken out of context," a defense attorney for one of the cleared militia members said. "We always said it was a First Amendment and Second Amendment case, and that's what it ended up being," added attorney Michael Rataj, whose client, Tina Stone, is the wife of the elder Stone.
The charges dismissed Tuesday marked the second anniversary of the arrests of the nine militia members, at least five of whom no longer face charges after Roberts' ruling.
"We're pleased. It is, in my opinion, a great day for the Constitution and for the rule of law," the elder Stone's defense attorney, William Swor, said. "We're grateful that the judge did what she did."
The Hutaree militia members cleared of all charges are Tina Stone, 46; David Stone Jr., 22, another son of the elder Stone; Thomas Piatek, 48; Michael Meeks, 40; and Kristopher Sickles, 29. Defendant Joshua Clough, 30, awaits his sentence after pleading guilty to a weapons charge in December. Another defendant, Jacob Ward, 35, will be tried separately.
The remaining charges of weapons possession rest on the elder Stone and his son, Joshua, both of whom have already spent two years in prison. The government claims the two militia members were in possession of unregistered automatic weapons. If convicted, the pair could face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
"I didn't figure we were doing anything wrong -- in the lines of going out there and doing the trainings -- to me it was basically fun," Tina Stone said Wednesday. "I'm worried for my husband and son. I guess I will be able to live my life a little easier once they're home."
The U.S. attorney's office in Michigan and the FBI declined to comment on the trial while the case is still under way.