Cook County prosecutors raised the specter of the Boston Marathon bombings in asking for hefty sentences for three alleged anarchists convicted of making crude Molotov cocktails in the lead-up to the 2012 NATO summit, but a judge ended up imposing more modest prison terms Friday that could result in their release in less than two years.
Judge Thaddeus Wilson took the middle ground, sentencing the so-called NATO 3 to between 5 and 8 years in prison, well below the 14 years sought by prosecutors but more than the time served wanted by the defense.
Wilson perhaps best explained his rationale by saying that the out-of-town men hadn’t been as cunning as the Three Musketeers as portrayed by prosecutors or as bungling as the Three Stooges as the defense contended.
The three-week trial of Brian Church, Jared Chase and Brent Betterly marked the first test in Cook County of a state terrorism law enacted in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. In a blow for State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, a jury in February acquitted all three of the more serious terrorism charges but convicted them of felony counts of possessing an incendiary device and misdemeanor mob action.
Prosecutors alleged that they had plotted attacks on police stations, President Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home. But the defense, bolstered by undercover police recordings that prosecutors played in court, argued that the three were goofs who talked big and were goaded on by two police officers working their first undercover investigation.
In court Friday, Assistant State’s Attorney Jack Blakey credited strong police work and good fortune with preventing an attack like the Boston bombings that killed three and injured 264. He argued for stiff prison sentences, saying the three defendants remained unrepentant.
“They are a disaster waiting to happen,” he told the judge.
But defense attorneys blasted prosecutors for the comparison, saying it was a further sign of their overzealous efforts in a case that was overcharged and rebuffed by jurors.
“We have a prosecutor with the mentality of the Spanish Inquisition,” said Thomas Anthony Durkin, Chase’s attorney.
The judge sentenced Church to 5 years in prison, Betterly to 6 years and Chase to 8 years.
“It may not be terrorism, but it is terrorizing,” Wilson said of the trio’s decision to build four explosives by pouring gasoline into empty beer bottles. “No matter what they do in other countries, Americans will not stand for the throwing of Molotov cocktails at police in the streets.”
The judge did not make clear the distinctions in his sentences. Prosecutors, for instance, had labeled Chase as the ringleader.
All three have been jailed since their arrests almost two years ago, meaning that if they qualify for good time they could be freed in 6 to 18 months, according to their attorneys.
For the first time in the case, two of the defendants spoke out in their defense before Wilson imposed sentence.Church said he objected to the Boston bombing comparisons.
“I do love my country. I love my fellow Americans,” he said. “
Betterly gave a lengthy, impassioned speech about his political beliefs, acknowledging that he was an anarchist but saying he believed in peaceful protest against Western powers and transnational corporations.
He said much of the allegedly incriminating talk captured on undercover recordings wasn’t serious.
Chase did not address the court, but Dr. Kathleen Shannon, an associate professor of neurology at Rush Medical College called as a witness on his behalf, said Chase has Huntington’s disease, a hereditary disease that destroys higher brain functioning, making those who have it unable to plan ahead or learn from their mistakes.
Prosecutors had called correctional officers to testify Friday about how two of the three defendants had caused trouble at Cook County Jail, particularly Chase, who was charged with throwing feces at a jail guard.
She said the disease was likely behind Chase’s misconduct at the jail. Shannon said Chase, 29, likely only has about 10 years to live.
After the sentencing, Alvarez again defended her the prosecution, telling reporters she had ”no apologies” for bringing the terrorism charges. She said she was pleased with the sentences.
“They’re being held responsible for what they’ve done,” Alvarez said
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