CHICAGO – Attorneys for three men facing terror-related charges for allegedly plotting to attack President Barack Obama's campaign headquarters during the NATO summit last month blasted Illinois' anti-terrorism statute Tuesday, saying it is too all-encompassing and ill-defined.
Defense attorneys spoke to reporters after a hearing in which prosecutors declined to show their counterparts an indictment handed down recently by a grand jury — a document that would likely reveal additional details about the case.
Federal prosecutors handle the vast majority of terrorism cases in the U.S., distinguishing the case of the three activists. They are also the first people to be charged under an Illinois law adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Defense attorney Thomas Durkin, who has defended several terrorist suspects in federal court, says there's a reason the state law hasn't been used before.
"It's a stupid statute," he said. "It is overblown and vague. ... You can be charged with terrorism by destroying a beehive."
Prosecutors told Judge Adam Bourgeois, Jr., earlier that they were not ready to show defense attorneys the formal indictment. Defense lawyers say they have seen almost none of the evidence against their clients, who were arrested days before the NATO summit started and are also accused of plotting attacks on police stations.
During the two-minute hearing, one defense attorney told the judge he didn't understand why prosecutors weren't willing to turn over the indictment, which likely includes more detail on the investigation.
"I don't either," the judge responded. "It seems a little strange."
The judge did not order prosecutors to turn the indictment over to prosecutors, but they must do so when the three are arraigned on July 2.
A spokeswoman for the Cook County prosecutor's office, Sally, Daly, said withholding indictments from defense teams is standard procedure in state courts.
Daly also defended prosecutors' decision to invoke Illinois' anti-terrorism laws for the first time.
"We stand by the case. These charges were brought in good faith," she said.
Durkin conceded prosecutors weren't obligated to make the indictment public yet, but he said it would have been appropriate given the media interest in the case.
Brian Church, 20, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Jared Chase, 24, of Keene, N.H.; and Brent Vincent Betterly, 24, Oakland Park, Fla., are charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism, material support for terrorism and possession of explosives. If convicted on all counts, they could each face a maximum 85-year prison term.
The three suspects, who have been unable to raise bond money for their release, appeared in court wearing bright yellow jumpsuits, with their arms, wrists and legs shackled. Durkin insisted the security was excessive, saying authorities had to show the men in an ominous light to match the terrorism allegations.
Another defense lawyer, Michael Deutsch echoed those comments, saying the ominous-sounding charges make the activists potential targets of other inmates.
"They need to be protected from being branded terrorists," he said.
Follow Michael Tarm at www.twitter.com/mtarm