Detroit— The Hutaree case, which ended in surprise acquittals this week, won’t deter federal prosecutors from preventing terror attacks, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said Thursday.
She spoke to The Detroit News hours after the high-profile case ended with guilty pleas on minor weapons charges against two group members. Five others walked free following acquittals Tuesday.
McQuade wanted to respond to criticism leveled by Hutaree leader David Stone Sr. and jurors. Stone faulted the FBI and federal government, saying they trampled on his First Amendment rights.
“He can say ugly and hateful things all day long, but the evidence was not just speech,” McQuade said. “It was stockpiling weapons, machine guns, 150,000 rounds of ammunition and targeting specific police officers.
“I am a great defender of the First Amendment — this went way beyond the First Amendment. I want to assure the public that our commitment to preventing terrorist attacks will not be deterred.”
One juror called the case an “overstep” by prosecutors.
“They overstepped a little bit. It wasn’t there,” said juror Rickey Randall, 58, of St. Clair Shores. “It was just a lot of talk, talk, talk and no action.”
“We were all on the same page,” said Randall, a retired construction worker. “They saw what I saw. I felt it was an overreach. I was shocked by what the government presented.”
Hutareemembers were accused of plotting to kill a local law enforcement official, then attack the funeral procession that would draw officers from across the country.
Defense lawyers argued Stone and other militia members were exercising their free speech rights and had no plan to wage war.
McQuade defended the investigation and prosecution and referenced Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
“What if he was caught one day before he blew up the building, and we had him on tape and caught him with all the (bomb) components? Was it too early to take him down? Are we supposed to wait until he strikes the match and wait until he blows up the building?
“We had information they were planning an attack in April 2010 so we made the decision to take them down. I think it was the right decision then and it was the right decision now. If you wait too long, you may risk lives.”
The acquittals come five months after McQuade’s office successfully prosecuted underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was sentenced to four life terms.
McQuade has several high-profile trials later this year, most notably the racketeering conspiracy case against former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
“It’s my job to make sure the wind is not taken out of people’s sails” following the Hutaree case, which U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts said “short-circuited.”
“We can’t be afraid,” McQuade said. “I made it a point to thank the lawyers and agents who had the courage to take on the assignment and infiltrate a militia group.”
The FBI declined comment on Stone’s criticisms or its handling of the Hutaree case.
“I think we talk when we’re successful and should talk when we’re less successful,” McQuade said, explaining why she chose to respond to Stone’s comments. “I think we’re accountable to the public and it’s important that they know what we’re thinking about how we use resources.”
- By Robert Snell
- The Detroit News