DETROIT -- Nine Midwestern militia members accused of conspiring against the government must stay locked up while prosecutors challenge an order that would release them until trial, a federal appeals court said Monday.
A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it would continue a temporary stay ordered Friday while the nine were at the federal courthouse in Detroit expecting to be released with electronic monitors.
The court said the government's appeal should be heard swiftly but no deadline for a decision was set. The ruling raised questions about some conclusions reached by U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts, who last week said the militia members could be released under strict conditions.
Monday's decision was a victory for federal prosecutors, who claim the nine are a risk to the public and should remain behind bars.
"We're grateful for the chance to be able to argue our position," U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said.
Members of the Michigan-based group, 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 since late March.
Much of the government's evidence made public so far shows militia members talking about killing police officers and attacking police who turn up for the funeral. No specific plot with specific targets has been disclosed.
Defense attorneys acknowledge the conversations may contain hateful speech and violent scenarios. But the talk also is peppered with laughter, "childish sounds and noises" and "detail-barren" schemes, lawyers Richard Helfrick and Todd Shanker said in a court filing last week.
A different three-judge panel will handle the government's appeal. The appeals court said it's "impossible to fairly and thoroughly review" Roberts' work until a transcript of an April 27-28 detention hearing is produced.
Nonetheless, the court hinted at some problems in Roberts' order, calling it a "manifest conflict of interest" to have family members act as custodians if militia members are sent home.
"A family member ... would presumably have strong natural incentive not to cooperate with the very government that is prosecuting his or her loved one," judges David McKeague, Helene White and Alan Norris said.
The appeals court said Roberts' decision also does not assess each defendant's risk for dangerousness in light of membership in an "extremist organization."
Six of the nine militia members are from Michigan, including leader David Stone of Lenawee County, two are from Ohio and one is from Indiana.
"All this means is we've got to work hard to get our clients out. We have to continue to fight," Stone's attorney, William Swor, said.