Preliminary hearing for "NATO 3" delayed until June

CHICAGO Tue May 22, 2012 9:18pm EDT

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - A judge postponed a preliminary hearing in Chicago on Tuesday for three men arrested last week ahead of a NATO summit on terrorism-related charges to give prosecutors more time to assemble the case against them.

The suspects, Brent Betterly, 24, Jared Chase, 27, and Brian Church, 20 - each being held on $1.5 million bond - appeared before Cook County Circuit Court Judge Adam Bourgeois Jr., who granted a prosecution request and postponed the hearing until June 12.

The men, dubbed "the NATO Three" by Chicago media, did not speak during the brief hearing. They are charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism, providing material support for terrorism and possession of an explosive or incendiary device.

Prosecutors allege the men were making Molotov cocktails - crude gasoline bombs - and planned to use them against high-profile targets that included President Barack Obama's campaign headquarters.

The three were arrested ahead of the two-day North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit meeting, which drew thousands of anti-war demonstrators.

A preliminary hearing for two other men, Sebastian Senakiewicz, 24, and Mark Neiweem, 28, arrested on terror or explosive charges is scheduled in Cook County Circuit Court for Wednesday. They were also arrested in raids ahead of the NATO summit.

"PSYCHOLOGICAL DAMAGE"

Michael Deutsch, an attorney for Church of the "NATO Three," said the conditions in the observation cells where the trio were being held at the Cook County Jail's hospital wing were "causing severe psychological damage."

Frank Bilecki, a spokesman for the Cook County Sheriff's Office, said it was not unusual for suspects in high-profile cases to be temporarily held in observation cells for safety reasons.

Bilecki said the men probably would be released into the general jail population on Tuesday and would have access to the jail's commissary and reading materials.

Defense lawyers predicted prosecutors would unseal a grand jury indictment on June 12, rather than go to a preliminary hearing, to avoid giving the defense a chance to cross-examine witnesses.

The Cook County State's Attorney's Office denied it was acting any differently in the case.

One of the spectators in court was Zoe Sigman, 22, who said she was a roommate of the three defendants.

"My jaw dropped when I heard what they were charged with," Sigman said. She called the allegations "completely at odds" with the three men she knew.

"They were very friendly. Just chilling out at the apt, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes ... They wanted to be here to support Chicago and the anti-war movement."

(Additional reporting by Andrew Stern in Chicago and David Adams in Miami; Editing by Philip Barbara)

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