In Chicago on April 25, Criminal Courts Judge Thaddeus Wilson handed down sentences for Jared Chase, Brent Betterly and Brian Church. Known now as the NATO 3, Chase, Betterly and Church were arrested in May 2012 just days before a NATO summit in Chicago that drew protesters from around the country.
They were charged under Illinois’ state terrorism statutes for making Molotov cocktails, spouting bombastic rhetoric, and making unrealistic threats. At trial, they were found not guilty of the terrorism charges, but guilty of lesser charges of possessing an incendiary device with intent to commit arson and mob action. In the U.S. these days, a not-guilty verdict in a terrorism trial is practically unheard of, but common sense prevailed over prosecutorial overreach.
At sentencing, prosecutors sought to make up for that defeat, engaging in fear-mongering by evoking the Boston Marathon bombing in an effort to secure the maximum sentence of 14 years for the lessor crimes. In the end, the sentences ranged from five to eight years, short of the 14 years prosecutors had asked for (and with time served, Church could be out of jail in 6 months, Betterly one year and Chase two years).
Here’s what bothers us so much about this case:
Entrap and Demonize: As we’ve reported before, there would have been no crime without the careful prodding and manipulation of two undercover Chicago cops who targeted the three and encouraged and facilitated the making of the Molotov cocktails. The Chicago police had been playing up the threat of dangerous protesters in the lead up to the NATO protests, they needed some protesters would do something really bad, so they made sure it happened.
Prosecutoral Overreach: there was absolutely no justification for charging the three with terrorism. Even the Chicago Sun-Times (in no way a radical voice) editorialized that “Long before this case wound up in front of a jury, it was the job of many other adults to bring a sense of proportion to the matter and make sensible distinctions. But they did not. The Chicago Police and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez almost comically overreached.”
Despicable Insensitivity: Although “Moe” and “Gloves” (the undercover cops) might not have realized that Chase suffers from Huntington’s disease (a neurodegenerative disorder that affects motor control and often leads to aggressive behavior), but prosecutors certainly did. Journalist Kevin Gosztola reported from the hearing that they claimed Chase’s disease made him more dangerous so he should be incarcerated for the maximum sentence. (Woody Guthrie suffered from Huntington’s disease, but the disease is better understood now, and of course, prison is not the best place for someone suffering from it.)