Court update for Chicago Political Prisoners the NATO 3

The NATO 3, Brent Betterly, Jared Chase, and Brian Jacob Church, are three political prisoners still at Cook County Jail awaiting trial. They have been imprisoned since the 2012 NATO Summit protests took place in Chicago.

In the past two weeks, the NATO 3 and their defense team have argued several motions in limine for the upcoming trial January 13th. These motions set the boundaries of what can be discussed by either side in front of a jury. Attorneys for the 3 used this opportunity to confront the blatant political repression and police violence at the heart of the case by pushing for strict limits on the prosecution’s ability to criminalize the defendants through inflammatory rhetoric and misinformation regarding their alleged Anarchist political beliefs.

On December 2nd, the defense argued that the over-use of the word terrorism and the labeling of the NATO 3 as supposed terrorists would strongly influence the jury to view these political prisoners as dangerous criminals without any clear factual basis. The prosecutors have already repeatedly used the term to automatically and prejudicially criminalize the defendants both in court filings and in the press.

Additionally, this trial date featured a lengthy argument over the state’s continued reference to the defendant’s Anarchist politics and their alleged participation in the so-called, “Black Bloc Group.” Defense attorney Michael Deutsche implored judge Thaddeus Wilson to prevent the prosecution from putting the politics of the defendants on trial, to distract from the inadequacy of their case and the gross police brutality and surveillance that took place during the NATO Summit protests. The defense cited the multitude of Anarchist perspectives, calling into question the very idea that there is one essentialist definition of, “Anarchism,” that could be attached to the defendant’s beliefs or that this definition of Anarchism implied the use of violence as a tactic. In regards to references to the Black Bloc, Deutsche rejected the very idea that Black Bloc is anything but the practice of wearing black in a public demonstration and couldn’t possibly demonstrate any particular organizational affiliation. Attorney Molly Armour compared the prosecution of the 3 to the Red Scares of the 1920s and 50s, forcing the defense to argue the legitimacy of their beliefs rather than the factual reality of a (non) existent plot.

Prosecutor John Blakey of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office argued that because they are charging the defendants with terrorism, they need to refer to terrorism and suggest that that the defendants are terrorists. Furthermore, the prosecutor suggested that the alleged Anarchist beliefs of the defendants are motive and intent, explaining why they came to Chicago and allegedly possessed incendiary devices. Blakey stated that Black Bloc is a, “technique,” used to avoid police and that alleged, “members,” of this technique participate because of their Anarchist politics. Judge Thaddeus Wilson asked both defense and prosecution whether or not he should treat the supposed political ideologies of the defendants as if it were “gang testimony,” an idea that the state supported and the defense vehemently denounced.

In the end, Wilson ruled that the prosecution could freely refer to Anarchism but that it was a, “foundation issue,” and that the prosecution should not label the defendants as Anarchists, “without appropriate foundation.” He also stated that police investigations of Anarchists would be coming out in trial and thus the information was relevant. Wilson ruled that the term terrorist and reference to the Black Bloc could be used freely.

The Defense also raised the issue of various items allegedly owned by one of the defendants that is being used by the prosecution to unfairly marginalize them in the eyes of the jury. These pieces of evidence held by the Chicago Police Department, include a, “makeshift shield,” and a pipe that had been altered while in police possession, and thus could not be viewed or inspected in its original condition. The defense emphasized that these items have nothing to do with the charges related to alleged explosive devices. Furthermore, Michael Deutsche made clear that, according to the tapes made by the under cover police, the cops were themselves, “the intellectual leaders,” of the construction and control of the supposed Molotov cocktails.

Additional defense motions called into question the use of third party statements contained on the police recordings. These statements would unfairly put the defendants on trial for the declarations of others that the state does not consider unindicted co-conspirators. The prosecution argued that the statements are needed to provide context for police statements or defendant statements. The judge ruled on December 10th that the prosecution can use the statements of third parties.

Finally, Attorney Molly Armour criticized the prosecution’s use of Facebook statements allegedly made by defendant Brent Betterly. The prosecution points to a small handful of posts made by the account as the start of this supposed conspiracy. But posts have been made through this Facebook page on dates after the defendants were arrested by the Chicago police, demonstrating that these statements were not only taken out of their original context, but that unknown persons have also gained access to this account, persons that could not possibly be Betterly. The few motions that Wilson did grant the defense, were restrictions on the use of defendant’s tattoos as well as reference to other terrorist organizations or cases not directly related to the facts of the case.

On Thursday December 5th, the state moved to prevent the defense from arguing vindictive prosecution or that the arrest of the 3 is a case of outrageous government conduct. The defense countered that because the evidence shows that the police are lying about there being a conspiracy at all and that they have motive to do so (to intimidate the NATO protests and justify police surveillance) that the actions of the cops require them to argue outrageous government conduct.

The prosecution also attempted to prove that they had a preponderance of evidence to support their allegation that a criminal conspiracy took place. In order to use the statements of the defendants on the recordings against the group of defendants as a whole, the prosecution had to show outside of these statements, evidence of a conspiracy. The defense maintained once again that there is no evidence whatsoever that a conspiracy took place, and that it is a fiction created by the prosecution to criminalize the NATO 3. They pointed out that all evidence outside these statements shows absolutely no criminal activity. The defendant’s housing choices, their attendance at meetings or participation in political demonstrations are not illegal and thus there are no criminal actions to support the allegation of a criminal conspiracy. The state argued that they do no have to show beyond a reasonable doubt that a conspiracy related to specific criminal charges took place (that’s for trial), but that they only have to show the evidence of a general association between the defendants to support the conclusion that there was a general conspiracy taking place.

On the final court date, Judge Wilson ruled that there was a preponderance of evidence to support the allegation that a criminal conspiracy existed. The prosecution can therefore use the statements of defendants on the recordings to substantiate this allegation. He also ruled that the statements of third parties on these recordings could be used as well as the Facebook page allegedly attached to Brent Betterly. Both sides reviewed witness lists and the judge questioned the defense listing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as a potential witness. Defense lawyers explained that they Mayor could speak to the perceived threat of an actual terrorist attack as well as the planning of the NATO Summit. Whether or not Emanuel will testify will be determined at future court dates.

Finally, lawyers defending Jared Chase announced that they would be pursuing an entrapment defense on all 11 counts. Lawyers for Brent Betterly and Brian Jacob Church announced that they would be pursuing an affirmative not guilty defense against charges 10 and 11, and reserved the right to use entrapment defenses against other charges if they so decided.

The next court date is December 19th at 2pm in courtroom 303 at the Chicago criminal court house. The trial itself is set to start on January 13th at the same location. As the trial looms, these political prisoners need our support as much as possible. They have weathered through a year and a half at cook county jail to get their day in court and put the state on trial for attempting to marginalize protests against militarism, police violence, and economic inequality. Whatever personal or financial supports you can provide through donations, letter writing, and attendance at court dates and the trial are all crucial to the struggle against the political repression of the NATO 3.

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