Ex-Militia Trying to Rebuild Their Lives

The Toledo Blade - www.toledoBlade.com

NORTH ADAMS, Mich. - David Stone and his son Joshua spent more than two years of their lives sitting in jail waiting to go on trial in federal court.

Accused of leading a conspiracy to kill a police officer to ignite a larger overthrow of the government, they won acquittal on the most serious charges in March and were set free from the Wayne County jail in Detroit.

But the ex-leaders of the Hutaree, a former Lenawee County-based militia, couldn't return home.

The double wide house trailer on Tomer Road in rural Clayton, Mich., that the elder Stone shared with his wife, Tina Stone, and his son was vandalized and their possessions were stolen.

Except for Mr. Stone's GMC Jimmy that a relative kept safe after the arrests, the Stones have nothing to their names. They are living with Mrs. Stone's parents in neighboring Hillsdale County.

"Everything we had owned is gone. All of it, including my clothes," Stone, 51, said during an interview. "The only thing we still own is that green vehicle sitting out there."

"Things were burned, things were stolen, things were given away," added Mrs. Stone, 46, who was acquitted of all charges. "Nothing is left."

In a strongly worded, 28-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts dismissed the most serious charges against the Stones and their sons David Stone, Jr., 22, and Joshua Stone, 23. Charges against fellow Hutaree members Michael Meeks, 42, Thomas Piatek, 49, and Kristopher Sickles, 29, also were dismissed.

In acquitting the Hutaree members of sedition conspiracy, attempting to use weapons, and five other counts, Judge Roberts said there was no evidence to support the charges.

The Stones, who said they are avid Christians, point to a classic biblical tale of David versus Goliath to illustrate the odds they faced in going to trial.

"Goliath came at David with everything he had. He was a man of war. He had the best weapons. But our God reigns," Mr. Stone said. "It's like the old saying, 'You can't take on city hall.' Well you can't beat the federal government and we did. Our lawyers and our judge beat the federal government."

Mrs. Stone said she turned down the government's plea offer that would have meant a mandatory 10-year sentence. She said she had confidence in her attorney, Michael Rataj, and knew in her heart that justice would prevail.

"They didn't prove their case. Justice does happen once in awhile," she said. "I am glad we had Judge Roberts. No matter how bleak the situation was for us at times, I knew we would come through it."

Stone said the Hutaree never posed a threat to public safety, and at times members defended their government when others criticized it. He said the Hutaree had formed a bond with some members of local law enforcement, often lending a hand when asked.

Though still strongly patriotic, Stone admitted that the two years spent in jail had changed his opinion of government officials.

"We always were the ones that defended the American government. I can't say sitting here that my opinion of the American government is very high. I think there are certain people in the government who have their own agenda," he said. "We live in the United States, not China, not Russia, not North Korea, or some other third-world county. We have a Constitution that is supposed to protect us from the abuses of the government like we just went through. ... I fully believe in what we did, and that was stand up and defend the Constitution."

The ruling was issued exactly two years after the FBI arrested nine Hutaree members in separate raids in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana and charged them with plotting a violent overthrow of the government that was to involve killing a police officer and then bombing his funeral. Conviction of the crimes would have resulted in lifetime prison sentences.

The case

The federal indictment was made after an 18-month investigation that included the FBI hiring an informant to spy on the group and planting into the Hutaree an FBI agent posing as a New Jersey trucker with a knack for working with explosives.

Federal prosecutors argued that the FBI stopped the Hutaree from going through with a plan to start a domestic war by attacking police officers in a funeral procession when they gathered to bury a fallen comrade.

Defense attorneys contended during the six-week trial that the Stones and others engaged in plenty of anti-government talk, but never had a specific plan to kill law enforcement.

Judge Roberts agreed with defense attorneys. She said the government did not prove the defendants had conspired in a plan to attack law enforcement and the case had been built largely on circumstantial evidence.

U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade defended the investigation and prosecution of the militia members. She said the indictment cut short a planned hoax 911 call, the killing of the responding officer, and an ensuing attack on the funeral procession.

"This group was arrested because of its conduct: planning and training to kill police officers, targeting specific officers, stockpiling weapons, including machine guns, and assembling parts to make bombs," she said.

Judge Roberts' decision left only weapons charges pending against David Stone and Joshua Stone. Both men cut deals with prosecutors two days later and were released on electronic monitoring.

The Stones each pleaded guilty to possessing a machine gun and altering a rifle to shoot as an automatic weapon. Joshua Stone faces up to 33 months in prison, and his father could get up to 41 months. They are to be sentenced in August. Their attorneys said they will ask Judge Roberts to give the men credit for the time they have served and set them free.

'Just talk'

The elder Stone said the government's case was misleading, built from snippets of recorded conversations to take what he and other Hutaree members said out of context. He said the jurors heard only a fraction of the evidence collected by the government.

"They can threaten to put you in prison for the rest of your life for just a few minutes of conversation. It was just talk," Stone said.

Mrs. Stone said her faith has grown stronger because of the ordeal. Among the few activities allowed under her bond conditions was attending services at her church, where she now teaches Sunday school.

"I never lost my faith in God," she said.

Tough times

The two years between the arrests and trial put a strain on relationships of the Stones and others.

Mrs. Stone could have no contact with her son, a Hutaree member, and her grandson during the two years her case was in limbo.

Also, Joshua Stone, then 21, had wed his 18-year-old fiancée about a week before the arrests of the Hutaree members. Six months later, his wife filed for divorce.

Mrs. Stone said that the marriage of her son broke up and the marriage of another militia member fell apart.

"There will be a ripple effect from this for several years, and some people will have to rebuild and patch things up," Stone said.

But there have been positive impacts. David Stone, Jr., who is Stone's adopted son, married his longtime fiancée, Brittany. They have a 2½-year-old son.

The acquittal of the seven who went to trial had a trickle-down effect on Joshua Clough, who was the only Hutaree member to cut a plea deal instead of taking his chances at trial and face a lengthy sentence.

Prosecutors scratched the Blissfield Township man's conviction that would have sent him to prison for five years.

Clough, 30, who had been working as a mall security guard before he was arrested two years ago, plead guilty Wednesday to possessing a homemade machine gun and was immediately released on bond. He likely will face more prison time when he returns to court Aug. 8 to be sentenced.

That leaves only the fate of Jacob Ward, 35, of Huron, Ohio, to be decided. In July, Judge Roberts found him incompetent to stand trial and ordered him to undergo treatment.

Stone said he has been asked to return to the Clayton factory where he was a forklift operator before the arrests, but plans for the couple are up in the air until after his sentencing in August.

"We don't know where we are going to live. We don't know where we are going to move," he said. "After [sentencing] we can begin rebuilding our lives and start over."

Contact Mark Reiter at [email protected] or 419-724-6199.