DETROIT — A federal appeals court on Thursday intervened to block the release of nine members of a Michigan militia accused of plotting to overthrow the government, dealing a setback to the defendants as they gathered in a courtroom hoping to rejoin their families.
A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati issued a temporary stay about 12 hours after a federal judge in Detroit said she would no longer freeze her Monday decision releasing the nine with electronic monitors and other restrictions.
With some already in street clothes, the militia members were transported to court to be processed for release Thursday. But they were returned to jail after a magistrate judge announced the appeals court decision.
The court did not indicate how long the stay would last.
"They're bad losers," attorney Mark Satawa told reporters, referring to the government. "I fully expect that the 6th Circuit will resolve this quickly."
The U.S. attorney's office is appealing U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts's order from earlier this week releasing the nine until trial. The government says the group, called Hutaree, would present a danger to the public if set free.
Defense attorney Christopher Seikaly said the restrictions Roberts set, including electronic monitors and curfews, would be similar to house arrest and ensure the public's safety. The defendants would be allowed to go to work, see a doctor and visit their lawyers, but not much more.
"They can't hang out at the corner pool hall," Seikaly said.
The militia members 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.
"We don't think the conditions are satisfactory," U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade told The Associated Press. "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."
Defense lawyers met a late-afternoon deadline to respond at the appeals court. They said Roberts' decision cannot be overturned unless the three-judge panel finds "clearly erroneous findings of fact."
She had the "opportunity of listening and viewing the witnesses and is in the special position to rule on the facts that were brought forth," nine attorneys wrote. "Judge Roberts should not be overturned considering the depth and detail of her opinion and her cogent analysis of the strength of the government's case."
Much of the government's evidence made public so far shows militia members talking about killing police officers and attacking officers who turn up for the funeral. No specific plot with specific targets has been disclosed. The judge did acknowledge the group had "stockpiles" of legal weapons and ammunition.
Defense attorneys say the conversations may contain repulsive speech and violent scenarios. But the talk is also peppered with laughter, "childish sounds and noises" and "detail-barren" schemes, attorneys Richard Helfrick and Todd Shanker wrote this week.
The judge held detention hearings last week. In her 36-page opinion Monday, she said secret recordings by an undercover agent contained "offensive and hate-filled speech" but nothing that signaled a conspiracy to levy war against the government.
Many people were at the courthouse Thursday waiting for relatives to be released.
"One hundred miles for nothing," said Tina Stone's father, Tim Kelley, 64, of North Adams, Mich., referring to his drive from Hillsdale County.
Stone, 44, the wife of militia leader David Stone, 44, of Clayton, Mich., has been ordered to stay with her father when she is released.
"It's frustrating, to be sure. She thought she was going home," her attorney, Michael Rataj, said of the delay.
Associated Press Writer Jeff Karoub contributed to this report.