CHICAGO – Three protesters pleaded not guilty to terrorism-related charges Monday that accuse them of plotting to attack President Barack Obama's campaign headquarters with Molotov cocktails during the NATO summit in Chicago earlier this year.
Around 20 supporters drew the ire of the presiding judge by cheering and raising clenched fists during the arraignment. The gestures of solidarity seemed to buoy the spirits of the suspects, who have been jailed since their arrests days before summit began in May.
The charges against the men include four filed under Illinois' never-before-used anti-terrorism statutes. Prosecutors also revealed for the first time that their evidence includes secretly recorded conversations, though they offered no details.
The three suspects — Brian Church of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Jared Chase of Keene, N.H., and Brent Vincent Betterly of Oakland Park, Fla. — stood silently by their lawyers in yellow jumpsuits, their hands folded behind their backs. Their attorneys entered not guilty pleas on their behalf to all 11 counts.
The men, who are all in their 20s, also face charges of attempted arson, solicitation to commit arson, conspiracy to commit arson and two counts of unlawful use of a weapon. If convicted, each could spend decades in prison.
State attorneys also turned over the first substantial batch of evidence to defense lawyers — 372 documents. Attorneys for the defendants told reporters later that the evidence they received Monday didn't appear to include any recordings or transcripts.
One of Church's attorneys, Sarah Gelsomino, said she hadn't had a chance to go through all the papers but that much of the evidence seems to rely heavily on two undercover police, known as "Gloves" and "Mo," who befriended the defendants in the weeks before the summit.
"What is clear is that (the undercover police) ... are everywhere here," she said, referring to the evidence. She and other attorneys have said the undercover police manipulated their clients.
Chase's lawyer, Thomas Durkin, told reporters the documents only appeared to include evidence from just before the protesters' arrests in May. He said there appeared to be no evidence backing up the allegation that the conspiracy to stage attacks in Chicago began last October.
Prosecutors did not speak to reporters after Monday's hearing.
As they entered and left the Cook County courtroom, supporters of the three NATO summit protesters stood and raised their right arms with their fists clenched. They cheered the men as the hearing ended, and Betterly turned to smile at the supporters and nodded in approval.
A deputy detained 45-year-old activist Tom Rainey, of Chicago, who held up a placard during the hearing that read, "I support Brian... Jarred ... Brent," and brought him before a visibly agitated Judge Thaddeus Wilson.
The judge told Rainey he was stopping short of jailing him for contempt but added angrily, "Do not bring a sign in here again."
The judge set a tentative trial date of July 22, 2013, but he added that the date could be moved up if the defense chooses to push for a speedier trial.
"If they are still in custody for a trial in July 2013, that is too long," Durkin told reporters. "We don't want them rotting in jail."
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