CHICAGO – A grand jury has handed down an 11-count indictment against three NATO-summit protesters jailed since May, including four terrorism-related counts and half a dozen new charges, according to the document obtained by The Associated Press from defense attorneys.
Tacking on more charges to three original charges could give prosecutors more leverage in negotiating a plea deal later or in boosting their chances of securing at least some convictions if the case does eventually go to trial, some legal experts said Wednesday.
Brian Church, Jared Chase and Brent Vincent Betterly were arrested days before the summit in Chicago under Illinois' never-before-used anti-terrorism statutes, prosecutors accusing them of plotting to attack President Barack Obama's campaign headquarters with Molotov cocktails.
A copy of the 12-page indictment provided by the defense lawyers to the AP and dated June 13 provides no details about the evidence.
One of Church's attorneys, Michael Deutsch, said all the charges seemed to derive from the alleged possession of four makeshift firebombs — made by pouring gasoline into beer bottles and stuffing bits of cloth into the necks to serve as fuses.
"I think this is all just a continuing strategy of sensationalizing the case to make it look more dangerous than it is," he said.
Defense attorneys had asked at a hearing last week if prosecutors would show them the indictment, complaining they had few details about the charges or the purported evidence. State's attorneys at the time said they would only disclose it at an upcoming July 2 arraignment.
But a copy of the indictment was available at the Cook County Circuit Court clerk's office this week, said Sarah Gelsomino, another of Church's attorneys and a member of the National Lawyers Guild.
"This is highly unusual behavior that, at every stage, prosecutors have refused to talk to us," she said. "It is symbolic that we couldn't even get the indictment directly from prosecutors themselves."
But Paul Quinn, a Chicago attorney who worked as a Cook County prosecutor for 18 years, said prosecutors aren't obliged to let defense attorneys know an indictment is available.
"It might seem petty, but prosecutors aren't going to go out of their way to help the defense," Quinn said. "They are only going to do what the law requires — and that's to make the defense aware of the indictment details at an arraignment."
The indictment against Church, 20, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; Chase, 24, of Keene, N.H.; and, Betterly, 24, of Oakland Park, Fla.; includes conspiracy to commit terrorism and material support for terrorism — two charges under which they were arrested. Counts in the indictment that make no reference to terrorism include attempted arson, solicitation to commit arson, conspiracy to commit arson and two counts of unlawful use of a weapon.
Defense attorneys have said all three men intend to enter not guilty pleas at the arraignment next month. If convicted, each could spend decades in prison.
Quinn noted prosecutors frequently use additional charges in an indictment as bargaining chips in later stages of the case, sometimes offering to drop the most serious charges if a defendant pleads guilty to lesser crimes.
Deutsch, the defense attorney, agreed it was possible prosecutors could drop the terrorism-related charges and let the others remain.
"But they've made such a big to-do about these guys being terrorists, I'm not sure they will," he said.
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