They were described as a triumvirate of drunken “goofs” and their alleged ringleader, Brian Church, a “wayward confused man” who suffered “delusions of protesting grandeur” and likened himself to a “ninja warrior.”
Now it’s up to a Cook County jury to determine whether Church, 22, Jared Chase, 29, and Brent Betterly, 25, were something more Machiavellian and evil: terrorists.
After a daylong session of closing arguments and a few hours of deliberations, Judge Thaddeus Wilson sent jurors home late Thursday night. He asked them to return Friday morning to resume deliberations in the controversial, high-profile case that has generated debate on the First Amendment, police entrapment and the heightened sense of fear after 9/11.
The three out-of-town activists weren’t merely spouting off their dislike for police officers when they plotted to set cops on fire, Assistant State’s Attorney Jack Blakey said in his closing arguments. They were gearing up for a violent “wake-up call for a twisted anarchic revolution,” he said.
“Cold and calculating” was how Blakey’s colleague, Thomas Biesty, summarized the NATO 3, who were secretly recorded by undercover Chicago Police officers Nadia Chikko and Mehmet Uygun.
But the attorneys for the men warned jurors of the serious blunder of branding their clients as terrorists and ripped into the credibility of Chikko and Uygun. They said the undercover officers goaded the trio before their arrests on May 16, 2012.
“I don’t like terrorists any more than you do, but it’s more important for me as a Chicagoan not to overreact . . . not to call something terrorism that isn’t terrorism because it’s convenient for our politicians,” said Thomas Durkin, Chase’s attorney, citing “flimsy evidence.”
Michael Deutsch, who represents Church, said charging the three men with the little-used state terrorism statute “trivializes” terrorism; “denigrates” those who try to fight terrorism, and “disrespects real victims.”
“Is this what the war on terrorism has come to?” Betterly’s attorney Molly Armour asked.
The men were unsophisticated and liked to “talk big” and exaggerate, their attorneys said.
When Betterly boasted on Facebook that he was hoping for a “riot” in Chicago, all he meant was that he was eager for a “large and loud protest,” Armour said.
Durkin chastised prosecutors for showing jurors a long-distance picture of the Chase Bank building that Church allegedly wanted to destroy, insinuating that the state’s attorney’s office was hoping to evoke the Twin Towers.
The grizzled defense attorney also produced a slingshot that the men allegedly wanted to use to break windows at President Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters.
“Weapons of mass destruction,” Durkin sarcastically sneered. “Tools of terrorism trade for sure.”
Armour said the crude Molotov cocktails the men allegedly constructed out of beer bottles were merely a result of the men’s “hijinks.”
Blakey shot back, calling the firebombs an “arson machine.”
The prosecutor nicknamed Betterly “Professor Molotov” and gave Chase the moniker “Captain Napalm.” Church, Blakey said, was “Mr. Cop on Fire.”
Blakey further disputed that the men were peaceful protesters or intoxicated when they spoke of their alleged thwarted plans, which included throwing an arrow into Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home and attacking four police stations.
“How dare they crouch behind the legacy of nonviolent protest,” Blakey said. “Martin Luther King? Gandhi? Mother Teresa? I don’t see them in court.”
Church, Chase and Betterly are charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism; providing material support for terrorism; possession of an incendiary device; and solicitation to commit arson.
The jury also has the option of finding the men guilty of mob action.
Late Thursday, jurors sent a note to Wilson, asking if manufacturing or possessing an incendiary device is a felony or misdemeanor. They later asked if the offense was a crime. Wilson told the jurors not to worry about possible sentencing of the men and later clarified that manufacturing and possessing an incendiary device with requisite intent is a felony offense.