CHICAGO – Three protesters acquitted of terrorism for plotting Molotov cocktail attacks in Chicago during a NATO summit were sentenced to prison terms Friday of between five and eight years on lesser arson and mob-action charges.
Among the targets the activists discussed attacking during the 2012 event, prosecutors say, was President Barack Obama's campaign headquarters, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's house and police facilities.
Despite their acquittals during a February trial on all terrorism counts – brought under a rarely used Illinois statute – the issue remained at the forefront of Friday's five-hour sentencing hearing.
Judge Thaddeus Wilson raised it himself in his remarks minutes before imposing the sentences, saying the plan to lob gas-filled bottles at the targets, had it been carried out, would have struck fear in the city.
"It might not be terrorism," the Cook County circuit judge said. "But it is terrorizing."
All three were convicted of the same charges, but Brian Church, 22, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., ended up getting the shortest sentence – five years. Jared Chase, 29, of Keene, N.H., got the longest, 8 years; and Brent Betterly, 26, of Oakland Park, got six years.
With credit for their two years in jail awaiting trial, all three could end up serving less than a third of their designated sentences. Church could be out in less than a year.
The decision by Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez to prosecute the three under the state's terrorism statute raised eyebrows at the time. A conviction on that charge carries a maximum life sentence.
Lead prosecutor Jack Blakey began his statement urging Wilson to hand all three men 14-year sentences by referring to the Boston Marathon bombings one year ago, which left three people dead and hundreds injured.
"Why bring up Boson? Because in Boston there were no undercover (police) to intercede," Blakey said. He suggested that only the successful infiltration of Chicago police posing as activists stopped the defendants from creating similar mayhem.
Church said in a statement to the judge earlier that he resented that comparison.
"Despite what some people would have you believe, I love my country," Church said. "To be compared to Boston ... it rips my heart."
Defense attorney Thomas Durkin criticized prosecutors for raising the specter of terrorism even after jurors came back with not guilty verdicts in February on all the terrorist-related counts.
"They have the audacity to compare this to Boston?!" he said, raising his voice and turning to look at prosecutors. "I didn't think for a second they would be ignorant enough to compare this to Boston.
Durkin said "the whole world is laughing" at the state's attorney's office for its zealousness in charging the activists with terrorism. Nevertheless, he said prosecutors were still trying to taint the defendants with the label of terrorism even though their terrorism case had collapsed at trial.
The defense described their clients as misfits who were often high during the alleged plotting. They say undercover police – known as "Mo" and "Gloves" – egged the men on about ominous-sounding acts their clients never took seriously.
Betterly's 15-minute statement to the judge Friday was partly a political dissertation about his belief in a peaceful anarchism against what he described as the subterfuge of transnational corporations. But he also said the protesters' talk – captured on FBI wiretaps – about staging attacks were mere "boosts" in "fits of dark humor."
Judge Wilson said the three may not have been as menacing as the state suggests. But they also weren't as clueless, he said, as their lawyers contend.
"They were no Three Stooges," he told the hearing.