A defense lawyer lashed out Thursday at a star witness in a trial related to a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, accusing the Army veteran of “stolen valor” and questioning why he wasn’t given a Purple Heart if he was truly injured in Iraq.
The ruckus broke out in front of jurors and continued after they were excused. Defense attorneys and prosecutors raised their voices over each other. At one point, an FBI agent firmly told lawyer Leonard Ballard to “back up, please.”
“Judge, it’s literally hurting my ears. I just can’t listen to it anymore,” state Assistant Attorney General Sunita Doddamani pleaded.
The commotion occurred on the ninth day of trial in Jackson, Michigan, where three members of a paramilitary group, the Wolverine Watchmen, are charged with providing material support for a terrorist act.
Joe Morrison, Pete Musico and Paul Bellar are not accused of directly participating in the Whitmer kidnapping scheme. But state prosecutors said they provided training and support to key players who were subsequently convicted of conspiracy in federal court.
Just like in the federal case, a crucial witness against the three men is Dan Chappel. He agreed in 2020 to become an informant, embedding himself for months inside the Watchmen after reporting to the FBI that the group talked chillingly about attacking police.
In response to questions from prosecutors, Chappel, 36, explained that he was simply looking for a way to maintain his gun skills when he joined the group, years after serving with the Army in Iraq. He told jurors that he suffered back and head trauma overseas that sometimes affected his memory.
Ballard, who is Morrison’s lawyer, pounced during cross-examination, challenging Chappel over his lack of a Purple Heart, a medal typically given to people injured in combat.
“It’s relevant because they have put his combat, and his combat ability, and his combat wounds and everything into evidence,” Ballard said, referring to prosecutors. “They said this is who and what he is. It goes to his credibility.”
Ballard, a former Marine, said a Purple Heart for Chappel’s injuries should have been automatic under Army regulations. But Chappel said his injuries weren’t diagnosed by doctors until later.
“This witness can’t get away with misrepresenting his conduct, his service, his valor — which I would argue is stolen valor in this matter — to these 15 people,” Ballard said of the jury.
Assistant Attorney General Bill Rollstin fired back, accusing Ballard of “besmirching this man’s integrity.”
“What’s (Ballard’s) point: He does or doesn’t have a Purple Heart so now you shouldn’t believe his testimony?” Rollstin asked.
Judge Thomas Wilson said Chappel would get an opportunity Friday to more fully explain his injuries to the jury.
“Then I’ll allow you to ask him if he ever had the Purple Heart,” Wilson told Ballard.
White reported from Detroit.