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FALN Terrorist Trial: 1981

Federal Charges And Trial

Yet the defendants' legal troubles were just beginning. During their trials for breaking Illinois laws, federal charges were being prepared by U.S. government prosecutors. On December 10, 1980, the already jailed FALN members were indicted by a federal grand jury for a variety of felonies, including a rarely employed charge of seditious conspiracy. One of two named but unindicted coconspirators was Maria Haydee Torres. By the time of the indictment, Haydee Torres had already been tried for her involvement in the fatal Mobil Oil bombing and been sentenced to life imprisonment.

When the trial of the 10 FALN members began in Chicago's federal court on February 3, 1981, it was marked by the same political theater that had distinguished the trial for the Evanston incident. When the defendants were brought into court in chains, they loudly demanded independence for Puerto Rico. Carmen Valentin declared war on the United States and called Judge Thomas R. McMillen a "judicial puppet." The judge told the prisoners that they could remain in court and testify on their own behalf, as long as they were not disruptive. The defendants told McMillen that they had no interest in sitting through a proceeding they viewed as "a farce." Although they were accompanied to court by attorney Michael E. Deutsch, they rejected offers of defense counsel.

Judge McMillen entered not guilty pleas for the prisoners and had them removed to a nearby maximum security jail, where they listened to testimony through a loudspeaker. The prosecution produced mounds of confiscated guns, explosives, and ammunition, along with numerous communiqués allegedly discussing FALN bombing and kidnapping plots. The evidence was stacked on the unused defense counsel table. The only signs of the 10 defendants in court were their photographs, which the prosecution mounted and displayed to the jury. Even as the prosecution made its closing arguments, the judge received a dismissive written notice from the defendants, who saw no reason to participate in what they regarded as an illegitimate trial conducted by an occupying government.

After eight days of testimony by the prosecution, the defendants were found guilty on February 11, 1981. On February 18 they were sentenced to lengthy prison terms ranging from 55 to 90 years, to be served consecutively with state sentences stemming from the Evanston incident. Shortly after the trial, another FALN leader named Oscar Lopez-Rivera was arrested on charges similar to those leveled against the Chicago defendants. Lopez-Rivera was accused of plotting to kidnap a government official or one of President Ronald Reagan's sons to ransom for imprisoned FALN members. To the shock of his family and FALN supporters, the prosecution's star witness in Lopez-Rivera's July 1981 trial was Alfredo Mendez, who became a government witness and entered the federal witness protection program to reduce the 75-year sentence he had received for his conviction in the February trial.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988FALN Terrorist Trial: 1981 - 11 Arrested In Evanston, Federal Charges And Trial, Clinton Grants Clemency, Suggestions For Further Reading