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'NATO 3' Get Between 5 and 8 Years; Judge Says 'Not a Case About Terrorism'

By  Erin Meyer and Quinn Ford | April 25, 2014 3:16pm | Updated on April 28, 2014 7:34am

 Three activists, Brent Betterly (l.), Brian Church and Jared Chase, were sentenced Friday.
Three activists, Brent Betterly (l.), Brian Church and Jared Chase, were sentenced Friday.
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Cook County Sheriffs Department

COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — Saying they were "three musketeers but they were no three stooges," a Cook County judge sentenced the men known as the "NATO 3" to prison Friday afternoon, handing down terms ranging from five to eight years.

Jared Chase was sentenced to eight years in prison for possession of an incendiary device. Brent Betterly was given six years and Brian Church was hit with a five-year term. All three were also given 30 days in Cook County jail for mob action.

The three men have already spent about two years in jail awaiting trial, much of it in solitary confinement.

In handing down the sentences, Judge Thaddeus Wilson began by noting much has been said about what "this case was."

 Three out-of-state men who came to Chicago to protest the 2012 summit were convicted of lesser charges.
NATO 3 Sentencing
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"I think it's important to say what this case was not," Wilson said. "This was not a case about anarchists. This was not a case about the 99 percent against the 1 percent. This was not a case about the war on dissent. This was not a case about criminalizing protests. This was not a case about fear mongering. This was not a case about the First Amendment. This was not a case about police entrapment, and this was not a case about terrorism."

Wilson said the undercover officers involved in the case were no "Hardy boys or Nancy Drew" but said "they should be commended."

"They did the best they could in the situation in which they found themselves," the judge said. "The case developed around them and they reacted accordingly."

The three convicted men were labeled budding terrorists by the prosecutors, while the defense team cast the trio as misguided, often drunk "goofs."

In court, prosecutors drew parallels between the NATO 3 and the Boston Marathon bombers when asking for 14-year sentences for the men.

In a statement to the judge delivered Friday, Brian Church rejected the comparison.

"To be compared to such atrocities hurts," he said. "It rips my heart apart."

Brett Betterly said the crimes he was charged with perpetuated the "same cycle" he has tried to "expose and disrupt." In a lengthy statement, Betterly identified himself as an anarchist but said his actions and statements that led to the charges, while in "bad taste," were either not really intended or taken out of context. He also spoke about his son.

"I hope my beautiful and intelligent boy knows that his daddy is no monster," Betterly said.

In handing down the sentences for the three, Wilson said Molotov cocktails are "inherently dangerous and unlawful for citizens to possess no matter how noble their cause."

"As a society in the face of threats ... we don't wait wait until runners are impaled by shrapnel as they cross the finish line and we don't wait until a police officer is on fire," Wilson said. "Instead we investigate, monitor and make arrests when it is clear that harm is planned and intended to be carried out."

After the sentence was handed down, both prosecutors and the attorneys for the three men said they were satisfied with the outcome.

"They've been held responsible for what they've done," Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez told reporters afterwards. "I'm very happy with these sentences."

Alvarez again defended the decision by her office to bring terrorism charges in the case, something that had never before been done. The jury ultimately found the three not guilty on those charges.

"[The sentences] should send a message that we're not going to sit back and wait for someone to get hurt," Alvarez said. "We're not going to wait for somebody to get hit with a Molotov cocktail. We're not going to wait for a building to get destroyed. Why should we?"

But defense attorneys for the three men lambasted prosecutors, saying they acted "like rabid dogs" in calling for 14-year sentences.

Thomas Durkin, Chase's attorney, said the mayor, police and prosecutors actions were "xenophobic," and he criticized the comparison to the Boston Bombings.

"Am I the only one in this city who thinks that's embarrassing?" he asked reporters. "I'm embarrassed to be from Chicago for the first time in my life where you have prosecutors stand up and make such ignorant, nativist...parochial arguments."

Durkin called the case a "politically-motivated" move to protect and justify the money spent during the NATO summit, something Durkin said turned the city "into a police state."

Michael Deutsch, Church's attorney, said the judge "saw through" prosecutor's claims when bringing terrorism charges. Deutsch said Church will probably spend six months in prison before being released, after time served and day-for-day credit on his five-year sentence.

Chase is expected to spend two years in prison, and Betterly is expected to serve one year before his release, the men's attorneys said.

In a trial that concluded Feb. 7, jurors acquitted the three of the terror-related charges, convicting them of lesser offenses related to the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago.

The three men came to Chicago to protest the summit, an event that drew world leaders and scores of protesters. Their arrests, in the days before the summit kicked off, brought the most serious charges leveled against any of those arrested as part of the NATO protests.

Prosecutors alleged that the three came from Florida with plans to do more than protest peacefully while dignitaries and notables from around the world gathered at McCormick Place. Their plans allegedly included attacking President Barack Obama's re-election campaign headquarters in the Prudential Building near Millennium Park, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Ravenswood home and other targets.

Undercover police officers infiltrated the Bridgeport apartment where the three were staying. Their observations of the group, provided in testimony during the trial, described how they discussed firebombing Obama's campaign headquarters and making Molotov cocktails.

The state's case hinged on secretly recorded conversations captured by the officers in the days leading up to the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago.  

But defense attorneys argued the three were little more than a band of misguided "goofs." They used the prosecution's recorded conversations to argue that the NATO 3 were all talk and no action.

The defense contended that Church, Chase and Betterly never would have gone as far as they did in their plans to disrupt NATO if not for the two undercover police officers egging them on.

After three weeks of court proceedings, a jury acquitted Church, Chase and Betterly of terrorism charges.

The three men were however found guilty of lesser offenses for mob action and possessing Molotov cocktails.

The charge, possession of an incendiary device with intent to commit arson, carries with it a sentence ranging from probation to between four and 30 years in prison.