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NATO 3 defense hails ‘huge victory’— prosecutor insists ‘this is not a defeat’

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Updated: March 9, 2014 6:18AM

Brian Church, Jared Chase and Brent Betterly were the first in Chicago to be charged as terrorists under a state law that was created after the 9/11 attacks.

But like the crude Molotov cocktails the out-of-town activists allegedly constructed out of beer bottles, the serious charges — while explosive — ultimately never took flight.

A Cook County jury Friday acquitted Church, 22; Chase, 29, and Betterly, 25, of terrorism-related charges some critics dubbed overzealous and a political stunt to scare protesters in the wake of the international NATO summit.

Although the trio was convicted of two counts of misdemeanor mob action and two counts of possession of an incendiary device to commit arson, their attorneys were ecstatic that the most damning charges were dismissed.

“This is a huge, huge victory,” said Thomas Durkin, a lawyer for Chase.

“You cannot imagine what it takes to stand up to that type of pressure, those types of charges, to have a jury stand up to the pressure, the innuendo, and all the fear that was thrown around the courtroom and come back and say ‘no.’”

Church’s attorney Michael Deutsch said Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez should be held “accountable” for overcharging his client and his two friends who were mostly just loud-mouthed nincompoops.

When told of Deutsch’s comments, a visibly irritated Alvarez lashed out.

“Chicago doesn’t host NATO every year ... I did not overcharge. Defense attorneys can say whatever they want,” Alvarez said as her somber looking prosecution team stood behind her.

“The charges were brought, and we felt very strongly that the facts supported the charges, and I would bring them again tomorrow with no apologies and no second-guessing.”

The top prosecutor grew testier when a reporter suggested the verdict was a blow to her office.

“How is this a defeat? This is not a defeat ... Would you like one [Molotov cocktail] thrown through your window?” she said, her voice growing loud.

“We saved people from being hurt, OK? Do we have to wait for a Chicago Police officer to be set on fire? I don’t think so. Do we have to wait for that neighborhood bank to go up in flames? I don’t think so. You know what? My job is public safety and that’s exactly what we did. Have we forgotten about Boston? Have we forgotten about homemade bombs in backpacks?”

Alvarez additionally said she was “proud” of the pair of undercover Chicago Police officers defense attorneys said egged the unsophisticated and often drunk NATO 3 into making four firebombs.

“Riot! Riot!” Officer Nadia Chikko could be heard on recordings played in Judge Thaddeus Wilson’s courtroom.

On May 16, 2012 — the day the men were arrested — Officer Mehmet Uygun was also caught on tape, saying “Yeah, Molotovs, make it rain. We should just do like a mob of them.”

But authorities said Church, Chase and Betterly didn’t need assistance in their plot to set cops on fire and damage banks, police stations, President Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home.

“A goof with a Molotov cocktail becomes a terrorist, as far as I’m concerned,” Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said earlier Friday before the verdict was reached. He dismissed accounts that the men were just lazy braggarts who lacked motivation to do anything besides get plastered and high.

“A goof threatening to put an arrow through somebody’s residence is a terrorist.”

After the verdict, jurors refused to comment, but one member of the panel posted an expression of his relief on Facebook over the end of the 12-day trial. “Finally an end,” he wrote.

In court Friday, relatives and supporters of the NATO 3 shed tears even though the men were acquitted of providing material support for terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism, solicitation to commit arson and two terror-related possession of incendiary device charges.

That, Betterly’s attorney said, was a triumph for the city, country and for those who dare to pour into streets to speak out.

“This war on terror cannot go this far,” Molly Armour said.

“There is a line in the sand, and this jury drew the line.”

Church, Chase and Betterly face between four and 30 years in prison.

Contributing: Stefano Esposito

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