URBANA — With the sentencing phase of Brendt Christensen’s murder trial in Peoria expected to run into next week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is concerned that the lead prosecutor assigned to that case may not be available as lead counsel in domestic terrorism suspect Michael B. Hari’s scheduled July 15 trial in Urbana.
Due to U.S. Attorney Eugene Miller’s potential conflict, federal prosecutors in the Central District of Illinois recently contacted Hari’s public defenders and asked to push back his trial in Urbana to Sept. 17 — prior to the scheduled Sept. 30 start of his federal trial in Minnesota.
Hari’s attorneys agreed to a continuance, but not one that lengthy.
“Counsel for defendant Hari advised the government that while defendant Hari agrees to a continuance of the trial in this matter until after the Christensen trial is concluded, he objects to a continuance to September 17, 2019,” prosecutors John Milhiser and Timothy Bass wrote in a document filed July 3 in U.S. District Court in Urbana.
Despite Hari’s objection, the prosecution asked in its recent court filing for a federal judge to set a “firm date” of Sept. 17 for Hari’s trial in Urbana, or instead schedule a hearing for “as soon as possible” to consider postponing it to that date.
The move by the prosecution appears to be a compromise, as it would satisfy Hari’s request to be tried in Illinois before he is tried in Minnesota.
In May, prosecutors had asked that Hari’s trial in Illinois be postponed until after the conclusion of his trial in Minnesota, arguing that Hari should be tried in Minnesota first because the Minnesota charges are “based on conduct that predates most of the conduct charged in the Central District of Illinois” and because “the Minnesota charges are factually more serious” and “carry significantly greater criminal penalties.”
In a response filed by Hari’s public defenders, they asked a judge to deny prosecutors’ request, noting that the federal government appears to be trying to “manipulate the Speedy Trial Act.” They noted that prosecutors had originally intended to have Hari tried in Illinois first — and even used those intentions to justify asking for a 60-day extension in filing an indictment against Hari in Minnesota.
In its July 3 reply, the prosecution acknowledged its “initial expectation that the Illinois charges would be tried first,” but prosecutors noted that “the circumstances of both cases have changed since that understanding was conveyed to the Minnesota court in April 2018.”
Those circumstances, prosecutors said, included Hari’s “repeated requests” to continue his Illinois trial from its initially scheduled date of June 2018. The repeated delays prompted prosecutors to transport Hari to Minnesota to face the charges there, prosecutors noted.
Prosecutors also noted that Hari’s attorneys subsequently filed a motion to continue the Christensen trial — over the prosecution’s objection — to July 2019, and a judge agreed. The Christensen trial now threatens to conflict with Hari’s July 15 trial in Illinois, as Miller is the lead counsel in both cases.
Prosecutors said that setting Hari’s trial in Illinois for Sept. 17 would “allow for continuity of government counsel” and “full effective preparation for trial by all government counsel in this matter.” Prosecutors noted that they would be agreeable with Hari’s transfer from Minnesota to Illinois once the court in Illinois sets a “firm trial date.”
Hari, a 48-year-old former Ford County sheriff’s deputy, was one of four Clarence men — all believed to be members of a homegrown domestic terrorism group known as the “White Rabbits” — who are charged in federal court in both Illinois and Minnesota in connection with alleged acts of terrorism, including the August 2017 firebombing of the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minn., and the attempted firebombing of the Women’s Health Practice in Champaign in November 2017.
Hari’s codefendants — Michael McWhorter, 30, Joe Morris, 23, and Ellis “E.J.” Mack, 19 — have pleaded guilty to various counts and are awaiting sentencing.