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If Alvarez sticks to her guns, juries will need to stick to theirs: Brown

Cook County state's attorney AnitAlvarez speaks press conference concerning NATO 3 Cook County Criminal Court Friday. | Alex Wroblewski/Sun Times.

Cook County state's attorney Anita Alvarez speaks at a press conference concerning the NATO 3 at Cook County Criminal Court on Friday. | Alex Wroblewski/Sun Times.

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Updated: March 10, 2014 6:47AM



Not more than an hour after a Cook County jury completely rejected the terrorism charges she brought against three out-of-state protesters, a defiant Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said she’d do it all again.

“The charges were bought, 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,” Alvarez told reporters angrily.

That’s pretty frightening when you get right down to it.

I don’t expect any prosecutor to ever admit they made a mistake. It’s not in the DNA, certainly not in Alvarez’s.

In her heart of hearts, Alvarez undoubtedly still believes there was no justification for a special prosecutor bringing charges against former Mayor Daley’s nephew Richard “R.J.” Vanecko in the death of David Koschman, even now that Vanecko has pleaded guilty.

But a jury of seven men and five women listened to 10 days of testimony during which the state’s attorney’s office put forward its best evidence that these three men tried to terrorize Chicagoans during the 2012 NATO summit.

And that jury didn’t buy it, just as many of us following the trial weren’t buying it.

The defense attorneys for Brian Church, Jared Chase, and Brent Betterly were correct from the start. This was no terrorism case.

Yet Alvarez reflexively tells us she’d charge them as terrorists again tomorrow.

I guess that means we’ll have to continue to count on finding jurors with better judgment than our top prosecutor.

I thank those jurors for having the guts to stand up to the pressure they must have felt to protect the community from the threat of “terrorists,” pressure that was unfairly placed upon them by Alvarez.

That’s what happens when you start throwing around a word like “terrorism.” You up the ante. You raise the stakes. Nobody wants to be responsible for allowing a terrorist to go free.

Take the same set of facts and remove the word “terrorism” from the equation, and this would have been an entirely different case.

Alvarez probably would have plea bargained it out long ago.

As it is, the jury clearly struck a compromise, rejecting the most serious terrorism charges and reducing them to a lesser charge of mob action, a misdemeanor punishable by 30 days in jail.

Then, the jury split the difference and found the defendants guilty of two arson charges connected to their possession of the four Molotov cocktails.

As Alvarez correctly observes in defending her office, those arson charges are serious — both felonies carrying a punishment of four to 30 years in prison.

Being convicted of those charges obviously makes this no victory for the defendants — and explains their grim faces in court after the verdicts were read — even if it is a defeat for Alvarez.

If you’ve read any of my trial coverage over the years, then you know I tend to be pro-prosecution. It doesn’t come easily for me to side with criminal defendants.

But this case bothers me deeply — from police infiltrating political protest groups to the overblown arrests.

I’ve never argued these guys were completely innocent. Neither have I diminished the danger of tossing around Molotov cocktails, not that I’ve ever been convinced these under-motivated anarchists would have ever gotten around to committing any crime without the help and encouragement of two undercover Chicago police officers. Based on the undercover recordings, the defendants’ plans to use those fire bombs were far from certain.

If the jury had been given an option to reduce the arson charges as well, I’ll bet they would have taken it.

None of them probably would have guessed the defendants could get 30 years in prison for this, but under our legal system, it’s not a jury’s responsibility to determine punishment.

Alvarez said she will be seeking “significant” jail time for the defendants, which I view as one more attempt to justify the terrorism charges. It wouldn’t do for the “terrorists,” having already spent 17 months in Cook County Jail, to walk free in a few months.

“Have we forgotten about Boston? Have we forgotten about homemade bombs in backpacks?” Alvarez scolded reporters, using a real terrorism case to justify herself.

Judge Thaddeus Wilson, who set sentencing for Feb. 28, rejected a defense motion this week to throw out the terrorism charges. We’ll now see whether the jury’s verdict will help him stand tall against the fear-mongering as well.

Email: markbrown@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkBrownCST



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