UPDATED: 2/7/2014 4:15 p.m.
By John Dodge
CHICAGO (CBS) — A jury on Friday found three young men guilty of mob action, but cleared them of more serious terrorism charges.
The verdict for the so-called NATO 3 came after nearly eight hours of deliberations that began Thursday night.
Brent Betterly, Jared Chase and Brian Church were arrested in May of 2012 and charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism during the NATO Summit later that same month.
The jury rejected that more serious charge and instead convicted them of the less-serious charge of mob action. They also were convicted of solicitation to commit arson and possession of an incendiary device.
Defense attorneys said the jury’s decision was a victory for their clients — and for free speech.
“It’s a victory for everyone, because when we start to trivialize terrorism and charge protesters with terrorism, then we are threatening all kinds of rights to protest and to speak out,” defense attorney Michael Deutsch said after the verdicts.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez disagreed and said she would seek significant time behind bars for the defendants.
“I did not over-charge,” she told reporters. “We felt very strongly that the evidence and the facts supported the charges, and I would bring them again tomorrow with no apologies and no second-guessing.”
During closing arguments on Thursday, prosecutors told jurors the intent to use Molotov cocktails to commit terrorism is clear in this case.
Defense attorneys argued that undercover police officers and prosecutors saw and heard only what they wanted.
The three defendants, all in their 20s, sat calmly, with Betterly taking notes during the prosecution’s argument.
Assistant State’s Attorney Tom Biestly began with a quote from Church: “The city doesn’t know what it’s in for, and after NATO, the city will never be the same.”
Biestly said that intent to wreak havoc, to intimidate a significant proportion of the population, was behind the trio’s plan to use Molotov cocktails to set a police officer on fire.
But defense attorneys argued it was all bravado when they boasted to undercover police officers who were posing as protesters.
“Their intent was to talk,” said Church’s defense attorney, Deutsch. “Their intent was to make up things, to impress these older police officers who they thought were protesters.”
Deutsch went on to insist that the two officers who had infiltrated the defendants’ circle intentionally tried to get the three to do things.
“They would lie and make up things,” he said. “They would lie all the time.”
All three defense attorneys argued the evidence does not prove this case.
“I got a beef with everybody in the case because of the evidence,” said Tom Durkin, who is Chase’s attorney. “If these people can be labeled terrorists, then we are all in trouble.”