A federal appeals court on Thursday issued an emergency stay blocking, at least temporarily, the release of nine jailed Michigan militia members accused of conspiring to overthrow the U.S. government.
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati issued the stay shortly after U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade filed a motion seeking the order. Defense attorneys had until 5 p.m. to respond.
The nine had been returned to U.S. District Court in Detroit to be processed for release, but the appeals court halted those proceedings.
"It's frustrating, to be sure," said Michael Rataj, attorney for Tina Stone, 44, the wife of militia leader David Stone, 44. "She's disappointed. She thought she was going home."
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.
Prosecutors claim the suspects are too dangerous to be released from jail. But Roberts set many restrictions and appointed third-party custodians, mostly family members, to keep watch.
Many were at the courthouse Thursday waiting for their relatives to be released.
"One hundred miles for nothing," said Tina Stone's father, 64-year-old Tim Kelley of North Adams, referring to his drive from Hillsdale County. Tina Stone has been ordered by the court to stay with her father when she is released. "I guess that's the way they need to do it."
Since the series of raids and arrests, Hutaree members have been portrayed by the government as homegrown extremists out to strike at authorities.
Roberts found that the secret recordings of militia members by an undercover agent contained "offensive and hate-filled speech," but nothing that signaled a conspiracy to levy war against the government.
"The defendants laugh, make sounds and appear to talk over one another," Roberts said, referring to a Feb. 20 recording. "There is also a discussion of strippers."
Government prosecutors said in Thursday's emergency motion requesting the stay that "if the defendants were to flee or to cause even a fraction of the harm they have repeatedly and fervently spoken of and planned for, no ruling by the Sixth Circuit could undo that damage."
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