URBANA — Federal prosecutors in Central Illinois are seeking to postpone domestic terrorism suspect Michael B. Hari’s scheduled July 15 trial in Urbana to until after the conclusion of his anticipated Sept. 30 trial in Minnesota, where the 48-year-old former Ford County sheriff’s deputy is currently being held in custody.
Hari, charged with alleged acts of terrorism in both states, has demanded that he be tried first in the Central District of Illinois. Federal prosecutors argued in a May 20 filing, however, that Hari should be first tried in the District of Minnesota because the Minnesota charges are “based on conduct that predates most of the conduct charged in the Central District of Illinois” and because “the Minnesota charges are factually more serious” and “carry significantly greater criminal penalties.”
During a June 18 status conference, a federal judge in Minnesota is expected to discuss with Hari, his attorneys and federal prosecutors which trial should commence first.
Hari was transferred by the U.S. Marshals Service earlier this year from the Livingston County Jail in Central Illinois to the Sherburne County Jail in Minnesota. Already in custody in Minnesota were two of Hari’s three codefendants.
Hari, the alleged leader of a homegrown domestic terrorism group known as the “White Rabbits,” was one of four Clarence men charged in federal court in connection with alleged acts of terrorism, including the August 2017 firebombing of the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minn., and the attempted firebombing of the Women’s Health Practice in Champaign in November 2017.
Hari’s codefendants — Michael McWhorter, 30, Joe Morris, 23, and Ellis “E.J.” Mack, 19 — have pleaded guilty to various counts and are awaiting sentencing.
In their May 20 motion to postpone Hari’s anticipated five-day trial in Central Illinois, federal prosecutors John Milhiser and Eugene Miller noted that Hari is currently being held in Minnesota with filing deadlines for his attorneys already set in advance of his trial there. Also, they noted that Hari has not yet filed any pretrial motions in the Illinois case, nor have any filing deadlines been set.
“Therefore, the defendant’s demand to proceed to trial on July 15, 2019, seems impractical, unless the defendant does not intend to file any pretrial motions in his Illinois case,” the prosecutors wrote. “Moreover, defense counsel typically likes to meet with a defendant prior to trial. Here, the defendant is required to be in the District of Minnesota at least through July 9, 2019, to resolve any pretrial motions in the Minnesota case (unless the defendant also does not intend to file any pretrial motions in his Minnesota case). Thus, it would seem unrealistic to expect the United States Marshals Service to transport the defendant to the Central District of Illinois in only six days and for defense counsel to be ready to proceed to trial on July 15, 2019.”
Without a continuance of the July 15 trial being granted, prosecutors added, it would “unreasonably deny the United States continuity of counsel in this case.” They noted that the prosecutor assigned to the Illinois case is the only assistant U.S. attorney in the Central District of Illinois “who has dealt with the assigned agents, reviewed the voluminous discovery or met with the codefendants and their attorneys.”
That same prosecutor, they noted, is handling the ongoing trial of kidnapping and murder suspect Brendt Christensen, which is not expected to conclude until late July. In February, Hari’s attorneys had requested that Christensen’s trial in the Central District of Illinois be moved from April to July. A judge ended up granting a continuance of the Christensen trial to June 3 over the objections of prosecutors, who were concerned it would conflict with Hari’s trial.
“The defendant should not be permitted to deny the United States continuity of counsel by knowingly continuing another case handled by the same prosecutor so that it directly conflicts with the known trial setting, and then demanding a speedy trial,” the prosecutors wrote.
Hari’s trial in Illinois has been repeatedly delayed — most recently from February to July. Prosecutors noted that Hari’s right to a speedy trial has not been violated, though, as the continuances were requested by Hari.
“In the Central District of Illinois case, the original indictment was filed on April 4, 2018,” federal prosecutors noted in their May 20 filing. “The defendant first moved to continue his trial date on May 25, 2018, which was 51 days after the original indictment. All time (Hari has been in custody) from May 25, 2018, until July 15, 2019, has already been excluded by the court (under the Speedy Trial Act), based on the defendant’s motions to continue.”
Prosecutors noted that “any delay in the Illinois case resulting from trial with respect to the Minnesota charges is automatically excluded from computing the time within which the Illinois trial must commence.”