Michigan militia members charged with conspiracy could be freed; prosecutors seek stay

DETROIT (AP) — Prosecutors said they will ask a federal appeals court to quickly intervene Thursday and stop the release of nine jailed Michigan militia members accused of conspiring to overthrow the U.S. government.

U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said the appeals court in Cincinnati will be asked to issue an emergency stay.

The nine were expected to be returned to court to be processed at 11 a.m. EDT before being released until trial. But the appeals court could halt everything.

In a ruling late Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts said she would not further suspend her Monday order that releases the militia members with strict rules, including electronic monitoring and curfews.

"We don't think the conditions are satisfactory," McQuade said. "We think the defendants pose a danger to the public and to law enforcement in particular. It's my duty to protect the safety of the public."

Roberts had ordered the militia members released Monday, then suspended her decision while prosecutors decided whether to appeal. They will appeal, but she was not persuaded to freeze the order any longer.

"Defendants are presumed innocent of all charges against them. ... This presumption of innocence is part and parcel of why, 'In our society liberty is the norm, and detention prior to trial or without trial is the carefully limited exception,'" Roberts wrote, quoting a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The members of the southern Michigan militia, called Hutaree, are charged with conspiracy to commit sedition, or rebellion, against the government and the attempted use of weapons of mass destruction. They have been in custody without bond since late March.

Authorities, citing secretly recorded conversations, say the group planned to kill a police officer and bomb the subsequent funeral. Defense attorneys say it was nothing more than hateful talk.

Prosecutors claim the suspects are too dangerous to be released from jail. But Roberts has set many restrictions and appointed third-party custodians, mostly family members, to keep watch.

An undercover agent infiltrated the group and secretly recorded some members talking about killing police and fearing a "New World Order."

Earlier this week, Roberts said it was "offensive and hate-filled speech" but it did not signal a conspiracy to levy war against the government.

William Swor, lawyer for militia leader David Stone, 44, of Clayton, Mich., said he was delighted to see the judge's decision Wednesday night.

"We think it's another step toward vindication, but we have no delusion that this is over," Swor said.

Since a series of raids and arrests, Hutaree members have been portrayed by the government as homegrown extremists out to strike at authorities. But evidence offered during the detention hearing pointed to no specific plot.

"The government's position that the defendants sought to acquire explosive devices is weakened by the evidence that the agents found no explosive devices when defendants were arrested," the judge said.

Roberts acknowledged she did not consider the "stockpiles" of legal firearms and ammunition possessed by militia members. But she noted there was no corroboration that the weapons were tied to any scheme to overthrow the government.