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.
Judge scolds prosecutors at hearing for Hutaree militia members
Paul Egan / The Detroit News
Detroit -- A federal judge had harsh words for prosecutors Tuesday after an FBI agent called to testify in the Hutaree militia case told the court she learned she would take the stand only shortly before the hearing began.
Special Agent Leslie Larsen, the agent in charge of the case in which nine people are accused of plotting to kill police officers and wage war against the U.S. government, did not know the answers to many of the questions she was asked and did not have her notes with her.
"I share the frustration of the defense ... with all of the responses that are coming from this witness that she doesn't know anything," said U.S. District Judge Victoria A. Roberts.
Roberts said she told prosecutors late last week that they should be prepared to have an agent called to testify at Tuesday's hearing, so she couldn't understand why Larsen didn't learn she would testify until shortly before the hearing began.
"I personally found out about the order this morning," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald Waterstreet, who explained he was not present at a status conference last week at which Roberts gave a verbal order about the agent's testimony.
"I find that very hard to believe," said Roberts, who noted Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tukel was present at the status conference.
Tukel told the judge prosecutors had filed court papers citing why they didn't think an agent should have to testify and said, "We weren't sure this proceeding was going forward."
"Once a court enters an order, proceedings are going to move forward," but despite that, prosecutors "didn't take steps" to have an FBI agent prepared to testify, Roberts replied.
Today's three-hour hearing was adjourned until Wednesday before Roberts will make a decision on whether any of the defendants should be granted bond.
Roberts is hearing appeals of orders by U.S. Magistrate Judge Donald Scheer that the defendants, accused of belonging to a radical militia with plans to kill police officers and wage war against the government, be held without bond to await trial.
Accused are alleged Hutaree leader David Stone Sr., 45, his wife, Tina Stone, 44, and his son, Joshua Matthew Stone, 21, all of Clayton; and his stepson, David Brian Stone Jr., 19, of Adrian. Also accused are Joshua Clough, 28, of Blissfield; Michael Meeks, 40, of Manchester; Thomas Piatek, 46, of Whiting, Ind.; Kristopher Sickles, 27, of Sandusky, Ohio; and Jacob Ward, 33, of Huron, Ohio.
They were arrested in a series of raids that started March 27 and were named in a grand jury indictment unsealed March 29. Large amounts of weapons and ammunition were seized. Charges include seditious conspiracy and attempted use of weapons of mass destruction.
Prosecutors say the defendants are both a threat to public safety and a flight risk.
And Waterstreet said there are about 25 more Hutaree members who are not indicted who could provide weapons to the indicted members if they were granted bond, or help them escape.
Roberts issued a written order Monday that said lawyers for the accused could call the FBI case agent to the stand, since prosecutors refused to call her as a witness. But Roberts said she gave the verbal order at conference held in her chambers late last week.
Prosecutors played a new recording today that was secretly made by an FBI undercover agent who infiltrated the Hutaree.
Recorded on Feb. 20, the recording features David Stone Sr., Joshua Stone, Joshua Clough, Meeks, Sickles and Ward and includes discussions about ways Hutaree members might kill police officers and the possible ramifications.
"Think how scared they would all be if people were just randomly killing cops," said one of the voices on the tape.
In cross-examining Larsen, James C. Thomas, the lawyer for Joshua Stone, suggested the recording featured plenty of joking and laughter and some degree of fantasy.
Larsen agreed she detected some elements of fantasy in the conversation. However, "they were talking about killing police officers," Larsen testified. "I don't think you can joke around about that."
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