Hutaree militia member charged weeks after getting hitched Case parts newlyweds

The Detroit Free Press/March 31, 2010

Two nights before her 18-year-old daughter's wedding, a scared mother turned to a church minister's wife and asked: "What do you know about this military stuff?"

The question came March 11 from Lori Witt, whose daughter was about to marry a 21-year-old man now charged along with eight others with being part of a Christian militia group hatching a plot to kill scores of police officers.

On March 13, Shannon Witt married Joshua Stone at Thornhill Baptist Church in Hudson in Lenawee County. The Rev. Elton Spurgeon and his wife, Donna, let the family use their church but did not perform the ceremony.

Donna Spurgeon knew the Stone family as polite, homeschooled boys with an affinity for hunting. They came to church once in a while. So she turned to Lori Witt during the wedding rehearsal and reassured her.

"I kind of played it down," Spurgeon said Tuesday. "I told her there wasn't anything to worry about."

But Lori Witt wasn't convinced.

"She told me she thought Shannon was being brainwashed," Spurgeon said.

Two days later, Shannon Witt arrived at the church in a white wedding dress. Stone and his wedding party showed up in camouflage.

"It wasn't my business," Spurgeon said. "But if it had been my daughter, I would have objected."

On Tuesday, photos that had been posted on Facebook provided a glimpse into the lives of Hutaree members. Among them were photos from another wedding, that of the group's leader, David Stone, and his wife, Tina. Both were among those charged Monday. Guns, camo

In federal court Tuesday afternoon, Joshua Stone was smiling at his new bride as she fidgeted and chewed her fingernails in the second row.

Stone, 21, of Clayton told U.S. District Magistrate Judge Donald Scheer that he needed a court-appointed lawyer. He is facing felony charges of attempted use of weapons of mass destruction and seditious conspiracy and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence. The mass destruction charge carries a maximum life sentence.

He wore blue jeans and a gray sweater, a far cry from the military fatigues he donned at his March 13 wedding to Shannon Witt. Photos of the wedding were earlier posted on the Internet social networking site Facebook, but appeared to have been removed by Tuesday afternoon.

Witt twirled a new wedding ring while she awaited her husband's court appearance. She said the ring cost $60, but declined to say much more to members of the news media hoping to get a window into their life.

Later Tuesday, a woman who identified herself only as Shannon Witt's grandmother over the phone, said she chose to stay away from the wedding because she did not approve.

"These are trying times for us, and we're asking for some privacy," the woman said.

Today, eight suspects, including Stone, will appear for detention hearings in U.S. District Court in Detroit to learn whether they will be freed from custody while awaiting trial. A ninth suspect, Thomas Piatek, 46, will appear in a federal court in Indiana.

Allegations of a plot

The suspects are members of the Hutaree Christian militia group and are accused of planning a major attack on police officers, first by killing a single officer and then by detonating homemade bombs during the subsequent funeral.

Federal agents most likely will unveil more evidence during today's hearing with hopes of convincing a judge to keep the suspects in custody.

Stone's father, David B. Stone, 45, of Clayton is accused of being Hutaree's leader and his wife, Tina Stone, 44, also is charged and in custody, as is Stone's adopted son, David B. Stone Jr., 19, of Adrian.

All of the suspects requested court-appointed lawyers during hearings Monday and Tuesday.

Detroit lawyer Michael Rataj, who was appointed to represent Tina Stone, said Tuesday: "I haven't seen one piece of evidence yet. I imagine there will be some federal agents testifying" at today's hearing.

Photographs that surfaced Tuesday on Facebook show David and Tina Stone holding rifles during their December wedding. David Stone is dressed in military fatigues along with his wedding party.

In other Facebook photos, from Joshua Stone's wedding, he and his father are sporting fatigues again, while Shannon Witt is wearing a white wedding dress.

The marriage was at Thornhill Baptist Church in Hudson. Donna Spurgeon, whose husband, Elton, is pastor, said they allowed the Stone family to use the church for the March 13 wedding. However, Elton Spurgeon did not perform the ceremonies.

Donna Spurgeon said she was taken aback when she saw Joshua Stone and his friends show up in camouflage. During a rehearsal, she said Shannon Witt's mother told her she feared that her daughter was being brainwashed.

Now, she's finding out why as the accusations continue to unfold.

Worried 'she would end up hurt'

When FBI agents captured Joshua Stone and his wife Monday night in a trailer in rural Pittsford, Spurgeon stayed in touch by phone with Shannon's parents, John and Lori Witt. John Witt already had skipped the wedding because he objected, Spurgeon said.

"I only met her mother during the rehearsal, and she was really concerned about the Stone family and the military stuff they were involved in," Spurgeon said. "Her parents were petrified after Josh went missing that there was going to be some kind of showdown and she would end up hurt."

Stone had been hiding on property belonging to Robert Dudley, 80, in Hillsdale County's Wheatland Township. With him were five adults, including his wife, and a child.

Shannon Witt's parents "were very joyful that she was all right," Spurgeon said.

Now, they are trying to learn more about Hutaree and how it crept into Lenawee County, where the Stone family lived.

The militia group maintains an open Facebook profile and has 29 friends. The group took to the social network March 2 to share the Bible verse John 15:13: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

One of the Facebook friends is Paul Topete, singer of the band Pokerface, from Allentown, Pa. Topete said Tuesday that he has had a few interactions with Hutaree because militia members play his band's music for training videos.

"These are defensive training videos," Topete said, describing his music as revolutionary protest rock. "Militias are defensive. We love our country, and we love our constitution, and we are not the ones trying to subvert our country.

"I hope there are lawyers out there to help them pro bono because these charges sound like they're trumped up."

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