URBANA — The criminal cases against alleged domestic terrorist Michael Hari will continue in two venues, a federal judge has ruled, despite the Ford County man’s desire to have his charges joined and heard only in Minnesota.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mihm on Tuesday denied a defense motion to consolidate the weapons, criminal conspiracy and attempted arson charges from the Central District of Illinois with charges stemming from the firebombing of a mosque in Minnesota and have them all heard in Minneapolis, where Hari’s trial is set to begin Feb. 18.
Hari, 48, of Clarence has been in custody since March 2018. The charges in the Central District against him allege that he formed a militia group called “White Rabbits” in August 2017 and set out to commit a number of “jobs” — robbing Walmart stores and alleged drug dealers in Illinois and Indiana, damaging railroad tracks in Illinois, and trying to set fire to a Champaign women’s health clinic. The former Ford County sheriff’s deputy is also charged with doing so while in possession of a machine gun and possessing firearms as a felon.
Federal Public Defender Tom Patton argued it was a matter of judicial economy to combine the Central District charges with the Minnesota case since the government has filed its intention to introduce evidence of the crimes he is accused of committing in Illinois and Indiana in Hari’s Minnesota trial.
He also argued that presenting proof of the Central District crimes with the lower burden of “preponderance of the evidence” as opposed to proof beyond a reasonable doubt, puts undue prejudice on Hari and could affect his decision to testify on his own behalf.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugene Miller objected, saying that Minnesota prosecutors may not put on all the same evidence that he intends to and therefore, two trials are necessary.
In questions Mihm put to Patton during a brief hearing Tuesday, the veteran judge said he was skeptical that the Minnesota prosecutors would call the same number of witnesses to testify for purposes of “proof of other crimes” evidence.
“I respectfully disagree,” Patton responded. “I have never seen the United States under try a trial. The government still has to prove the events occurred.”
“I would fall out of my chair if the government in Minnesota was allowed to introduce (the Central District crimes) and they don’t call the alleged victim of the robbery (in Ambia, Ind.). Same thing with the Walmart robberies, the railroad. The government still has to prove it as evidence of consciousness of guilt. The victims have to testify twice in the government’s proposal. That hardly shows concern for the convenience of the victims,” Patton said.
Miller countered that his colleagues in Minnesota do not intend to call certain witnesses from the Central District crimes and instead may put on the elements of those alleged crimes through two co-conspirators of Hari’s who intend to testify.
Mihm questioned Patton on why the motion was filed Jan. 23 when Hari’s trial in Minnesota — which stems from the Aug. 5, 2017, firebombing of a mosque in Bloomington, Minn. — has long been set for later this month.
Patton responded that it was because Hari had only recently asked his defense team to do so.
“It is not a frivolous motion, but I’m going to deny the motion to transfer,” Mihm said.
Mihm said if he granted the motion, the Minnesota judge would then have to decide if the Illinois charges were properly in that jurisdiction, and that could prompt a continuance.
“In terms of (proof of other crimes evidence) I don’t know what this judge up there will allow. If it were me, I can’t imagine I’d allow all this to come in,” Mihm said.
Hari’s jury trial on the Central District crimes is set to begin in Urbana on March 30.