A key witness in the case against Michael Hari, the man on trial for bombing a Minnesota mosque, told jurors Monday he intentionally sabotaged a homemade explosive in November 2017 to foil Hari's plot to bomb an abortion clinic in Champaign, Ill.
Joe Morris, who says he was a member of Hari's militia, White Rabbits, testified he purposely left a piece of masking tape on the homemade thermite bomb at the last moment before lighting and tossing it into Women's Health Practice.
"I didn't feel right in doing what I was about to do," Morris said in St. Paul's federal courthouse on Monday. "So I left it on."
A staff member for the clinic found the device intact on the floor of a surgery room the next morning.
The domestic terror trial for Hari, 49, of Clarence, Ill., resumed Monday after a two-week hiatus due to a juror being exposed to COVID-19. Hari has pleaded not guilty to five federal charges, including hate crimes and civil rights violations. Prosecutors say he enlisted Morris and another militia member, Michael McWhorter, to help carry out his meticulous plan to bomb Dar Al-Farooq mosque in Bloomington while several people gathered inside for a dawn prayer and frighten the Muslim community.
Morris and McWhorter both pleaded guilty to their roles in the attack and agreed to testify against Hari. In court testimony earlier this month, Morris, a 25-year-old who dropped out of school in 8th grade, described Hari as a father figure. Hari recruited him to help wage attacks on the "untouchables," such as George Soros, antifa and ISIS, on orders from a CIA agent he called "Congo Joe," Morris said.
Morris' second day of testimony included new revelations of his part in the White Rabbits, including an abandoned plot to travel to Cuba to apprehend Joanne Deborah Chesimard — wanted by the FBI and the aunt of deceased rapper Tupac Shakur — and turn her in for a $1 million reward to fund their militia.
Morris also described helping Hari attempt to frame his neighbor and rival, a man named Jon O'Neil. Hari faced criminal charges for pressing an airsoft gun to O'Neil's head after O'Neil complained about his horses and dogs getting loose. At Hari's direction, Morris said he planted a tracking device on O'Neil's truck. Morris and Hari also placed a bomb in O'Neil's garage and then Hari called the police to report it, said Morris.
On cross examination, defense attorneys challenged Morris's motives for testifying and ability to accurately recall information, citing discrepancies in details of his statements over the years, such as the color of uniforms they wore.
Federal defender Shannon Elkins raised statements Morris allegedly made to other inmates in Sherburne County jail about him being "next in line" to take over the White Rabbits.
"If you're next in line in the White Rabbits, then if Mr. Hari goes to prison, you're the guy, right?" asked Elkins.
"It would have been that way, yes," replied Morris.
Elkins also questioned what Morris expects in return for his testimony. He and McWhorter are facing mandatory-minimum sentences of 35 years in prison, but prosecutors could recommend the judge give them less time in exchange for assistance in the case. Elkins cited letters Morris wrote to friends saying he hoped his cooperation with prosecutors, time already spent in jail and history of mental illness could lead to a reduced sentence of five to 10 years.
Morris acknowledged his hopes for a shorter sentence, but said prosecutors told him only to tell the truth.
Elkins also asked Morris about his history of mental illness. Morris said he's been diagnosed with schizophrenia, with symptoms including hearing voices in his head. Morris, who is now on medication, denied that he ever confused these voices with Hari, saying they sounded distinctly different.
Andy Mannix • 612-673-4036