DETROIT — A judge lifted a stay Wednesday night and cleared the way for nine members of a Michigan militia to be released from jail while awaiting trial on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government and weapons violations.
U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts rejected a request to keep them detained while prosecutors pursue an appeal of her order that releases the defendants with strict conditions, including electronic monitoring.
Roberts ruled about six hours after the government claimed the public could be at risk if she does not further suspend her Monday order and the militia members go home.
They won't actually be free until they're returned to federal court to be processed, which could happen Thursday. Meanwhile, prosecutors could ask the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for an emergency stay blocking Roberts' order.
"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 in her ruling, 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.
Authorities, citing secretly recorded conversations, say the group planned to kill a police officer and bomb the subsequent funeral. Defense attorneys say it was nothing more than hateful talk.
Prosecutors claim the suspects are too dangerous to be released from jail. But Roberts has set many restrictions and appointed third-party custodians, mostly family members, to keep watch.
"The defendants must be released," the judge said Wednesday at the end of an eight-page decision.
An undercover agent infiltrated the group and secretly recorded some members talking about killing police and fearing a "New World Order."
On Monday, Roberts said it was "offensive and hate-filled speech" but it did not signal a conspiracy to levy war against the government.
A message seeking comment was left with U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade on Wednesday night.