On M ay 16, 2012, Chicago cops raided an apartment in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago in an all-too-common attempt to scare people away from the imminent protests against the NATO summit. With guns drawn, the cops arrested 11 people in or around the apartment and quickly disappeared them into the bowels of the extensive network of detention facilities in Cook County, Illinois.
After a few days, a few things started becoming clear: 2 of the arrested “activists” were actually undercover Chicago cops who had targeted the real activists for arrest, 6 of them were illegally held and released at the last possible minute before court action could be taken to force their release, and 3 had been slapped with trumped-up, politically motivated terrorism charges for allegedly creating Molotov cocktails. These three—Brent Betterly, Brian Jacob Church, Jared Chase—are now known as the NATO 3. They were ultimately charged with 11 felony counts: material support for terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism, possession of an incendiary device (four counts), conspiracy to commit arson, solicitation to commit arson, attempt arson, and unlawful use of a weapon (two counts). The terrorism charges are part of the Illinois state version of the USA Patriot Act, which was passed shortly after 9/11.
The NATO 3 face up to 40 years in prison each. As they are being held on $1.5 million bond each, they have been incarcerated since their arrests in May 2012. After being held a month without formal charges, the NATO 3 were indicted on June 13, 2012. Even so, the prosecutors refused to provide their defense attorneys with copies of the indictment, invoking their seldom-used right to withhold the indictments until the arraignment. The presiding judge called this petty, bad-faith move “a little strange” but did not order the prosecutors to hand over the indictments until the arraignment on July 2. Nevertheless, the defense attorneys were able to obtain the indictments from the court clerk on June 20.
The “discovery” process began in earnest after the arraignment. In this phase of the pre-trial proceedings, both sides must present the other with all the evidence they have collected and could use at trial. To date, the prosecutors have clearly demonstrated their desire to overwhelm the defense with mountains of useless, irrelevant information instead of providing substantive evidence to back up their outlandish charges. The defense team has been steadily poring over about three terabytes of electronic information and thousands of typed pages of information as part of the defense preparations.
The prosecutors’ continued antics have not prevented the defense attorneys from mounting a vigorous defense or from challenging the politically motivated nature of the charges. The attorneys, many of whom are involved in the People’s Law Office or National Lawyers Guild—Chicago, are all too experienced in fighting back against prosecutorial abuse and state repression in Chicago. In late January, the defense attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the terrorism charges for being unconstitutional both in general (“on their face”) and as applied to these defendants. Oral arguments on the motion happened on March 19 and the judge issued his order denying the motion on March 27. While the judge has ruled that the law itself is constitutional and while the terrorism charges still stand, the defendants may be able to file a motion to dismiss because the law is being unconstitutionally used against them as trial approaches or during the trial itself.
The constitutionality challenge marked an important step in Brent, Brian, and Jared’s fight against these politically motivated charges and for their freedom. Defense preparations are far from over, however, and a long way to go remains in this struggle.
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