Are the NATO 3 insurgents and terrorists? Or are they just naive activists that got roped in by law enforcement? The trial that will determine which they are began yesterday in Chicago.
In the first-of-its-kind legal action, prosecutors began the trial of the NATO 3 telling jurors widely different perspectives of the claims against the three accused with planning terrorist strikes while the summit was being held
Arrested were Brian Church, 22, Brent Betterly, 25, of Florida and Jared Chase, 29, from New Hampshire, along with six others in a raid by Chicago police in an apartment on May 16. The individuals were held without charges until Thursday, May 17. The other six were released and by the next day, May 18, the NATO 3 were the only activists in jail. Early on Saturday, May 19, Chicago police indicated the three would be charged with “material support for terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism and possession of explosives or explosive or incendiary device.”
The three have been held in protective custody since then with a bail of $1.5 million.
Defense attorneys told the jurors that the defendants, the NATO 3, were just loud braggarts, frequently drunk, naive and prompted by undercover law enforcement. As they trial got underway, attorneys reached into history to show their clients were victims of an overly aggressive politics.
The attorneys referenced the two of Chicago’s most infamous demonstrations as they reminded jurors that city hall had again overstepped their bounds and charged the three as though they were hard-core members of a Middle Eastern group.
Describing the three’s activity as not even being close to terrorism, Sara Gelsomino, an attorney for one of the men, referred to the government’s charges of terrorism as being prejudicial.
The defense attorneys have described the three as men who had found hope, guidance and motivation with Occupy. Gelsomino described Church as an “an exaggerator with delusions of grandeur” who is often heard in the taped conversations asking for more beer.
Speaking about the undercover officers, Gelsomino told the jurors and courtroom that the desperation in the officers’ voices would be heard clearly in the courtroom as the recordings were played.
The legality of the terrorism charges was challenged by one of the defense attorneys. Defense attorney Michael Deutsch asked, “How can you charge someone with terrorism without an act of force, violence or a violation of federal or state law?”
He went on to suggest that the statute was being applied with a broad brush and could be used to prosecute property destruction. An Illinois state representative had been concerned about that possibility when the terrorism law had been passed.
In court notes filed by the “Free the NATO 3,” a joint police surveillance operation was established that involved the FBI, Homeland Security, Secret Service and Chicago police. Messages allegedly were texted between the defendants and undercover cops. However, the text messages were not kept, and the police did not do anything to get copies of the texts from wireless carriers.
The defense informed the court that law enforcement had deleted text messages related to the case and had even destroyed the phones which had been put to use, to which the judge replied that the unrecovered texts and destroyed phones “could be problematic.”
There was a post-arrest statement from Church that the state had originally intended to use against him. Prosecutors will not be using it as the state successfully argued that it was unconstitutionally obtained after Church had been chained up for 17 hours while being denied access to legal counsel.
Betterly had been an electrician in Florida. His attorney, Lillian McCartin, said his participation was little more than grandiosity and histrionics made on evenings greased with beer and marijuana.
Durkin claimed that the entire inquiry was caused by money, politics and the requirement of city politicians to justify the millions of dollars paid out on security.
Durkin reminded jurors of the Occupy Wall Street movement which had ended shortly before the arrests. He claimed that the three were a portion of the 99% and were people that never really had a chance. Paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson, he went on to say that when people start to complain, people with power get a little nervous.
Assistant State Attorney Matthew Thrum began by quoting a piece of the captured audio. According to Thrum, Church asked one of the undercover officers if he was ready to see a police officer burned. Allegedly, Church was also captured on tape speaking about destroying squad cars and setting police stations on fire.
Thrum told jurors that they would listen to the preparations as they occurred implying that captured recordings would be heard that caught the background noises of glass and liquid as the gasoline-filled bottles were being made.
Claiming the three were connected by anger and had gone to Illinois ready to have a battle with police, Thrum also talked about how one of the men had talked about destroying landmark buildings in downtown Chicago. Thrum went on to say that the three had every intention of focusing world attention on Chicago.
The NATO 3 face up to four decades in prison if found guilty at their trial now going on in Chicago.
By Jerry Nelson