Three of nine members of a Midwest militia accused of conspiring to overthrow the government were released from jail Tuesday until trial after prosecutors suddenly backed off an intense effort to keep the entire group behind bars.
David Stone Jr., 19, Jacob Ward, 33, and Tina Stone, 44, were released to family members after appearing in federal court in Detroit. They must wear electronic monitors and follow strict conditions first set by a judge earlier this month.
"It's a great start," said Stone Jr.'s attorney, Todd Shanker. "David Jr. is not a danger to anybody. He's going to work at a nearby farm and he's not going to bother anybody."
After the hearing, Tina Stone said she was happy to be going to her father's home in Hillsdale County but declined further comment. Asked what's ahead, her father, Tim Kelley, said with a laugh: "She's pickin' my strawberries. I know that."
The three are among nine indicted members of a southern Michigan-based group called Hutaree. All are charged with conspiring to commit sedition, or rebellion, against the government and attempting to use weapons of mass destruction.
For weeks, the U.S. attorney's office had argued that all nine should remain in jail pending trial because "no set of conditions or combinations" could ensure the safety of the public. But prosecutors began reaching out to some defense lawyers late last week.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Falvey Jr. declined to say why the government singled out the three defendants released Tuesday. He said he dropped his opposition after being assured their freedom would be very limited.
The defendants can go to work, see their lawyers and keep medical appointments, but not much else, under an order signed by U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts.
"Our (initial) understanding was it was just home detention with a curfew. Our fear was that was not going to limit their movement," Falvey said. "It may be a distinction without a difference. It just wasn't clear to us."
The government is fighting to keep the other six in custody by pursuing an appeal of Roberts' May 3 order. But that number may drop to five this week because of the possible release of another defendant, Kristopher Sickles of Sandusky, Ohio, defense lawyer Henry Scharg said. Scharg said he has been discussing Sickles' possible release with prosecutors. Falvey declined to comment.
A former federal prosecutor, Lloyd Meyer of Chicago, said the government may be waiving its opposition to improve its chances at the appeals court as it tries to keep others, including militia leader David Stone, behind bars. A decision is expected by early June.
"They just want the good facts on the most dangerous to go before the 6th Circuit," Meyer said of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. "They don't want the appellate court to be distracted by the non-violent nature of the individuals they now say can be released."
Tina Stone, the wife of David Stone, will live with her father. Stone Jr. of Lenawee County will live with his mother, Donna Popejoy. Ward is from Huron, Ohio, and will live there with his mother, Nadine Bober.
Tina Stone's attorney, Michael Rataj, said she can't wait to get the "smell of the Wayne County jail off her."
"I don't know what motivated the government. I'm not interested," he said. "We can begin focusing on the charges against us."
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