The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office is preparing to drop terrorism charges against the so-called RNC Eight, according to a source close to discussions about the high-profile prosecutions. The group of activists, who have been accused of a criminal conspiracy to disrupt the Republican National Convention, will still face felony charges of criminal conspiracy to riot and damage property.
This means that the defendants will no longer be subject to a possible 50-percent enhancement in their prison sentences if ultimately convicted of the charges. The RNC Eight (pictured) are believed to be the first defendants ever charged under the Minnesota version of the federal PATRIOT Act.
The decision to reduce the charges comes as the terrorism prosecutions have received heightened scrutiny from the media. It also comes as the calendar for Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party gatherings gets crowded, including a debate for gubernatorial candidates next week at St. John’s University. Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner is hoping to win the party’s backing for governor and has been receiving criticism from party activists for the prosecutions.
Jordan Kushner, an attorney for one of the RNC Eight defendants, believes the decision to reduce the charges is entirely political. “She obviously got too much bad publicity about it and she’s backing away,” he says. “But the problem is that all the charges are politically motivated and unjustified.”
The eight defendants — Erik Oseland, Eryn Trimmer, Garrett Fitzgerald, Luce Guillen-Givens, Max Specktor, Monica Bicking, Rob Czernick and Nathanael Secor — still face up to five years in prison if convicted of the charges. Their next court hearings are scheduled for May.
Officials in the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office could not immediately be reached for comment.
UPDATE: It’s official: terrorism charges have been dropped against the eight defendants. “We believe the terrorism charges would have been a distraction at trial,” Gaertner said in a statement announcing the decision. “Dismissing those charges will help us focus on the core illegal conduct that occurred.” Minnesota Public Radio has posted the press release from the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office.