Trial Day 10: “Let’s Make These [Molotovs] So I Can Go Bomb a F—- Bank” Undercover Cop Said, Prosecution and Defense Rest Cases
Today in the trial of the NATO 3—Brent Betterly, Jared Chase, Brian Jacob Church—undercover Chicago cop Mehmet Uygun (aka “Mo”) finished giving testimony and the state rested its case against the defendants. Before resting, the state called its final witness, the bomb technician who handled the Molotovs after the raid and dumped the gasoline in the bottles down the toilet. After the state rested its case, the defense argued that the terrorism charges should be thrown out because the state had not shown evidence to substantiate the charges, but the judge gave a long, pro-American speech and denied the motions. The defense then declared that it was resting its case without calling any witnesses and without any of the defendants testifying on their own behalves.
Cross Examination of Undercover Cop “Mo”
During cross examination, Uygun was forced to testify to the full extent to which the undercovers directed the defendants in different ways at different times, particularly on the day of their arrests. Uygun admitted he was the first person to mention Molotovs that day. Additionally, when the undercovers were hanging out with the defendants at the apartment, Uygun was recorded as saying, “Let’s make these so I can go bomb a fucking bank” when talking about Molotovs. He also admitted that his partner, Nadia Chikko (aka “Gloves”), was the only person to ask, “Should we make Molotovs?” From there, the materials for Molotovs were gathered and the bottles were filled with gasoline. This recorded statement was captured during the time period between Conversation 47 and Conversation 48 that the prosecutors played for the jury. That is, the prosecutors intentionally left out this part of the recording, which can be described at a minimum as misleading in the extreme.
Regarding the creation of Molotovs, Uygun was also forced to admit that asked about all the ingredients needed for them: gas, bottles, and wicks. He used one of his black bandannas for the wicks, asking for a knife from someone so he could cut his bandanna (Church provided him with a Swiss army knife). He was also forced to admit that Church said they could not siphon gas from his car and that he stood at the opposite end of the porch when the bottles were being filled with gasoline, only coming nearby when prompted to by questions Uygun asked of him to get him engaged in the process. Further, he admitted that neither Church nor Betterly ever touched the bottles after they had been filled with gasoline. He also admitted that Chase was the only one who ever learned that he had hid the Molotovs in the bathroom, unlike in Church’s car as he said he would. Chase asked Uygun to move the Molotovs but he did not do so.
Throughout the cross examination, the defense attorneys tore Uygun’s testimony to shreds, asking him about reports the state did not show to the jury that contradicted much of his previous testimony. The attorneys also played snippets from the audio recordings from his and Chikko’s recording devices that further revealed contradictions in his testimony and refuted some of the state’s claims. Uygun testified about an undercover assignment in March 2012 in which he saw graffiti he believed to be anarchist symbols and followed it down Division Street until he found more graffiti, including a red circle A. He denied, however, that his investigation included looking for anarchists, saying instead that he was only looking for criminal activity. His testimony under cross-examination also revealed a 3-day Department of Homeland Security training he took in the lead-up to the NATO summit, which included information about previous summits like the World Trade Organization and International Monetary Fund. This training also included information on alleged violence by anarchists at these demonstrations.
Notably, Uygun’s testimony under cross-examination revealed exactly how distorted the state’s claims about the defendants are. Uygun admitted that either he or Chikko were the first to talk about Molotovs and other explosives on several occasions, although he continued to assert that he was just going with the conversation to be included, not directing the conversation. He also claimed that several conversations that were clearly joking ones, including lots of laughter audible on the recordings, were actually serious and he took them as such. One conversation included Chase talking about strapping Molotov cocktails to the inside of his trench coat to take to protests, which Uygun claimed he took seriously. In the same conversation, Uygun suggested Chase could wheel a shopping cart full of Molotovs into the protest, but Chase said a potato gun would be better to have. He also admitted that, in the same conversation, neither Church nor Chase had talked about pipe bombs when talking about steel pipes and that he had only assumed that they had been when he testified as such.
Uygun also testified that he wrote Debriefing Notes after each of his undercover assignments and reported anything that seemed to be of a criminal or dangerous nature. However, his reports mostly do not detail what he testified to considering threats from and plans by the defendants. At one point, he said he did not know why he did not report on some things. The prosecutors later asked him if the audio recordings from his undercover wire were part of his reports in an overt attempt to salvage his weakened testimony after he had shown how little weight he had given to some of the defendants’ statements when they had been made, in contrast to how much he was saying they meant on the stand.
Much of Uygun’s testimony concerned alleged plans by the defendants to create pipe bombs, supposedly for use in an attack on Obama’s campaign headquarters in downtown Chicago. This testimony marked a shift in the narrative of the alleged conspiracy away from the Molotovs and to pipe bombs, which came across as a desperate attempt by the state to demonstrate some form of plot to commit terrorism. Under cross examination, Uygun admitted that none of the defendants had ever mentioned pipe bombs during his investigation and he had never written reports about them talking about them. Further, he admitted that the PVC pipe seized during the raid on the apartment where two of them had been staying had been used for shooting off bottle rockets, not for a pipe bomb. He also admitted that his testimony today was the first time he had ever told anyone, including his supervisors, about his thoughts about the defendants wanting to create pipe bombs. Uygun’s testimony under cross examination also revealed that he had never investigated whether Church or Chase had followed up on any of the plans for actions they allegedly told the undercovers about, including the ones to attack four police precincts simultaneously and to attack Obama’s campaign headquarters.
Additionally, Uygun testified that he had never seen the defendants drunk or stoned, although audio recordings played for him today captured Church saying that he was too drunk to drive and Chikko saying that she would drive. He further contradicted his earlier testimony, as well as Chikko’s prior testimony, about how many beers he had given the defendants on how many occasions. At first, he claimed he had only given some of them a beer on one or two occasions, although audio recordings played today showed that he and his partner had given them multiple beers on multiple occasions. He also admitted that he remembered waiting at the apartment with Church before heading to a protest because Church would not leave until he was able to get more marijuana. His testimony also confirmed that he had asked Church at one point if he was high and that he had told him to write a to-do list before he “hit the bowl in the morning” so he would be more productive in creating plans for attacking targets. Unlike his partner, who had claimed that “hitting the bowl” meant going to the bathroom, Uygun admitted that he had been referring to getting high.
Uygun was also forced to admit under cross-examination that he had not investigated whether Church had ever followed-up on his stated ideas for finding and attacking targets, including four police precincts, Obama’s campaign headquarters, and the Mayor’s house. Similarly, he was forced to admit that he had never seen any of the defendants commit any criminal act prior to May 16th when they were present for the construction of the Molotovs.
Bomb Technician Testifies
The state’s final witness was the bomb technician who handled the Molotovs after the raid. He testified that he had sampled the liquid in the bottles, which was confirmed to be gasoline, and then dumped the gas into the toilet to dispose of it. When asked why he did that, he said that was the safest course of action at the time. The prosecutors also had him read handwritten instructions for building a pipe bomb that was allegedly in “plain view” on the table in the raided apartment. He testified that the instructions would create a functional pipe bomb but that he did not know who had written or read it, as well as that he had only been shown it shortly before trial when the prosecutors were preparing him to testify. The prosecutors also stipulated for the record that the handwriting does not match any of the defendants’ handwriting and the document was never tested for fingerprints to see who had handled it. The bomb technician further testified that Molotovs are inherently dangerous and illegal under Illinois law.
Before the testimony about the pipe bomb instructions took place, the defense attorneys had argued that the handwritten instructions should not be shown to the jury at all. The defendants had been forced to give handwriting exemplars because of so-called evidence such as that document, and the results of the handwriting analysis came back negative. Attorney Molly Armour, one of the attorneys for Betterly, argued that the state was trying to get the document and the PVC pipe that the prosecution claimed was meant for a pipe bomb (but that Uygun testified he knew had been used for bottle rockets) in through the backdoor since they had been prevented from doing so before trial began. The judge ruled that the state could admit the document into evidence to be shown to the jury as long as they followed the proper procedures for laying the foundation for it through a witness; the bomb technician was a satisfactory witness for this purpose, the judge ruled over the defense’s objections.
After this witness was excused, the state rested its case against the NATO 3, officially ending this stage of the trial.
Motions for Directed Verdicts of Not Guilty
After the state rested, the defendants launched into their motions for directed verdicts of not guilty for the terrorism charges. Additionally, attorneys for Betterly argued that all the charges against him should be thrown out. A motion for directed verdict is a defense request for the judge to determine that the state has failed to meet its burden of proof on the charged offenses. Basically, the judge was asked to decide whether a reasonable jury member could think that there was enough evidence to even warrant considering whether the prosecution had proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the judge does not have to decide whether the charges were proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Michael Deutsch, one of the attorneys for Church, argued that the state had failed to show any evidence of terrorism or that the defendants had the intent to commit terrorism. Tom Durkin, one of Chase’s attorneys, argued that he had never understood the state’s so-called evidence of terrorism in this case and still did not even after that had presented their case to the jury, so those charges should be thrown out. Armour joined in those arguments and further argued that Betterly had never entered any agreement to commit a terrorist act or to do anything with Molotovs.
After listening to the defense arguments and prosecutors’ objections, the judge launched into a long, pro-American speech before issuing his ruling. He said that the police are the first line of defense for the millions of citizens and visitors of Chicago, so the image of a police officer on fire would create fear and apprehension in anyone. “That is terror,” he said multiple times. He also said that the backdrop to his entire consideration of the charges against the defendants was the statement, “Chicago will never be the same.” He repeated this statement three times with dramatic effect. He did not mention, however, that this was the same statement allegedly made by Church that the undercover cops and prosecutors had repeated verbatim in police reports, press releases, court documents, pre-trial hearings, and sworn testimony even though there is no audio recording of it. Knowledge of this oft-repeated phrase comes from the undercovers’ memories alone, as they both testified to under cross examination.
The judge denied the motions for directed verdicts, specifying that he was not deciding that the charges had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt and that this was up to the jury to decide. The defense then started to re-assert its constitutionality challenge to the terrorism counts, although the attorneys quickly conferred and decided to reserve this challenge for a post-trial motion since the civil liberties issues in the case are so stark and severe. This challenge was first raised in early 2013 when the defense challenged the Illinois terrorism statutes as unconstitutional both as written (i.e., “on its face”) and as applied to the NATO 3 in this case. The judge ruled that the statutes are constitutional, saying that they are not overly broad or vague and that they do not encroach on activity protected by the First Amendment. He did not rule on the as-applied challenge since he had not been shown enough evidence in the case to make a determination, thereby giving the defense the ability to re-assert this challenge after the state presented its case against the defendants at trial.
After these arguments, the defense declared that it was resting its case without calling any witnesses and without the defendants testifying in their own defense. The defendants are not required to present any witnesses or evidence to counter the state’s allegations against them, and they all chose not to do so. When the judge asked them each whether they wanted to testify on their own behalves, they each said no. Betterly confidently remarked, “I don’t believe it will be necessary.” With the defense resting, the next stage of trial will be the closing arguments. These are scheduled for 10am on Thursday.