The NATO 3—Brent Betterly, Jared Chase, Brian Jacob Church—started their trial today with a full complement of defense attorneys and a courtroom packed with supporters. The prosecutors started off the opening arguments and were immediately followed by the defense attorneys. After the lunch recess, an audio technician who enhanced the audio on a number of tapes that make up a key part of the state’s alleged evidence against the three defendants testified that he had enhanced the audibility of the tapes but not altered the content in any way. His testimony was immediately followed by Chicago Police Officer Nadia Chikko, known as “Gloves” during her infiltration of the Chicago activist community.
The court proceedings ended part way through her testimony and court will resume at 10:30am tomorrow. All members of the public must be seated by 10:15am, so we encourage everyone planning on joining us in packing the courtroom to arrive early so they have time to pass through the two security screening processes required to get into Courtroom 606.
Prosecution Opening Statements
Assistant State’s Attorney Matthew Thrun handled the state’s opening statement, clearly attempting to paint the defendants as dangerous terrorists bent on attacking the city. His statement closely paralleled the bond proffer in this case (see https://freethenato3.wordpress.com/court-documents/ for this and other court documents). In sum, he alleged the defendants came to Chicago to get in the media spotlight. They traveled together from Florida with weapons, tactical vests, and other equipment to enact a plan. They also set about recruiting people familiar with Chicago to help them with their plan. Thrun argued that they discussed a variety of plans, including shooting an arrow with a note attached through a window of the Mayor’s house and building a homemade mortar out of PVC pipe, but nothing satisfied them until they decided to build Molotov cocktails. Once they had done this, the undercover cops who had infiltrated their group got a search warrant approved and then raided the house where the Molotovs had been assembled. The jury would be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that these three defendants had intended to terrorize the city, had materially supported each other in committing terrorism, and conspired to commit terrorism.
Defense Opening Statements
The defense attorneys wasted no time in refuting the state’s claims. Sarah Gelsomino of the People’s Law Office began the defense opening statements. Gelsomino and Michael Deutsch represent Jacob. Gelsomino acknowledge that “terrorism” is a big, scary word and that it naturally leads people to fear for themselves, their families, and their communities. But this case is not a terrorism case at all and there is no credible evidence that the defendants ever posed a threat to anyone, she argued. Jacob became involved in Occupy because he felt unsure of his future and was concerned with government actions to support the rich at the expense of the poor and working class. As a novice in political protest, he educated himself on summits like NATO on the internet and became fearful of police violence. He was also in a vulnerable position, as he was insecure and struggling with chemical dependency issues. The cops exploited his situation because they were under pressure to make arrests and had been infiltrating the Chicago activist community looking for anarchists since February 2012 with no luck until then. Thus, the undercovers pushed the defendants to assemble Molotovs, even buying the gas for them. The defendants themselves never had a plan to build or use Molotovs. They never had the intent to commit terrorism.
Lillian McCartin made the next statement as co-counsel, along with Molly Armour and Paul Brayman, for Brent. She opened her statement with the image of a man stepping out into a chilly Chicago evening to make a phone call to ask what to do with four Molotovs. This man was Chicago Police Officer Mohmet Nguyen, known to the activists he had infiltrated as “Mo.” McCartin said that Brent had joined Occupy when he was down on his luck and had found a home and a way to make the world better for himself and his young son. Through going to different Occupy encampments and protests, he saw cops harass and brutalize people, which made him grow distrustful of them. He was also new to large political protests and unfamiliar with cities like Chicago where millions of dollars are spent on security before summits like NATO. He also met the undercovers after he had arrived in Chicago and these undercovers set up meetings with the defendants and brought beer with them to the meetings, fueling drunken comments and bragging. On the night of May 16, Mo and Gloves brought beer with them to an apartment in the Bridgeport neighborhood and started working their plan to create some reason to make an arrest. They had been frustrated by the lack of anything happening or any plan being made, so they were getting desperate. The evidence will show, McCartin argued, that there was no plan or intent to commit terrorism and that the only just verdict is a not guilty verdict.
The final defense opening statement was made by Tom Durkin, co-counsel with Joshua Herman for Jared. Durkin submitted to the jury that they would clearly see that there is no evidence of terrorism in this case and that the Illinois terrorism statutes were charges looking for defendants. He also argued that the evidence will show that the investigation in this case began as early as September 2011, not in early 2012 as the state had said. He also said that it is curious that this is a state case and not a federal case, like nearly every alleged terrorism case. Chicago is also a dangerous place for anarchists and for the First Amendment, going back to the police cracking people’s skulls at protests in 1968 to the Haymarket incident. This investigation into the Chicago activist community was spurred by incidents in Vancouver, Canada allegedly involving the Black Bloc and dangerous anarchists. The cops needed a lawful purpose for infiltrating Occupy Chicago and spent many hours surveilling people, running license plates, and going to different events in their search for anarchists. The cops were looking for a threat to justify the expenditures on the NATO summit, particularly after the G8 summit changed locations and there was no longer coinciding summits being planned. Thus, the cops had motives for shaping this case and making an agreement to commit illegal acts. Since conspiracy charges require an agreement and an agreement with the police is not enough, the evidence will show that there was no conspiracy to commit terrorism. He also argued that they never intended to intimidate or coerce a significant portion of the civilian population, a key component of the terrorism charge.
Testimony by Nadia Chikko, aka “Gloves”
The court proceedings today concluded with the first part of testimony by the undercover cop known as “Gloves.” She provided quick and lengthy responses to Assistant State’s Attorney John Blakey’s questions about her undercover investigation. Many of her responses received objections from the defense because she was jumping ahead and providing narratives that were not asked for by the questions; some of these objections were sustained and some were overruled. She testified that she was put on a 90-day undercover assignment in February 2012 and started attending protests and other activist events. She had met an activist at the Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic closure protests in mid-April 2012 and, through him, met the defendants. She then went into detailed narratives of her conversations with Jacob, claiming that he instigated contact with her and Mo. Her testimony closely followed the bond proffer, even to the extent of using some of the exact quotes that Thrun had used in his opening statement and that the prosecution has used repeatedly in various motions and replies throughout this case. The prosecution entered a number of photographs, including a photo of a Guy Fawkes mask, into evidence during this testimony. Court ended when the prosecutor was ready to shift into the audio recordings the state has entered into evidence. These recordings and further testimony are expected to begin the proceedings tomorrow morning at 10:30am.