Against the advice of their attorneys who believed they could win at trial, five Indiana men charged in the Ashford House attack pleaded guilty to three counts of armed violence Friday in a Bridgeview courtroom.
Judge Carmen K. Aguilar handed down the sentences in the attack, where the men stormed the Tinley Park restaurant wearing masks, hoods and gloves with axes and metal batons to confront a neo-Nazi group meeting on May 19 of last year. Charges of mob action, aggravated battery and criminal damage to property were dropped as part of the agreement. The five received:
- Cody Sutherlin, 23 - five years in the Illinois Department of Corrections
- Dylan Sutherlin, 20 - five years in the Illinois Department of Corrections
- Jason Sutherlin, 33 - six years in the Illinois Department of Corrections
- John Tucker, 26 - 42 months in the Illinois Department of Corrections
- Alex Stuck, 22 - 42 months in the Illinois Department of Corrections
All five men have been in custody since the May 19 incident and will receive credit for 233 days time served and will have to pay $587 in court costs, and will be on parole for two years upon release from prison. With good behavior, they are eligible for parole after serving 50 percent of their time.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant State's Attorneys Karin Swanson and Cheryl Galvin.
Defense for the five had been prepared to argue a motion Friday to get the men's arrest thrown out and evidence suppressed, said Brian Barrido, attorney for Dylan Sutherlin.
But in the end, the math just didn't add up for the defendants, Barrido said.
"They would rather just get it over with today," Barrido said, noting that the men were aware that it could take another year just to get to trial. And because of the logistics of trying five defendants, matching DNA and evidence etc., there was no way to tell how long the men could wait in jail.
Also, they apparently weren't willing to take a chance on being found guilty, where they would have been sentenced to the maximum of seven years -- the offer initially on the table with prosecutors. The five were also initially disappointed with Aguilar's offer
But the men all decided not to move forward with trial.
Five will 'support the continued struggle to fight racism'
Attorney Sara Garber, who represented Alex Stuck, said she was disappointed with the men's decision and shocked at the judge's sentence.
"All the Nazis at the restaurant have records, with violent felony backgrounds," Garber said. "They had weapons, guns in their cars."
By comparison the five men, who had staunch support from people who came to Friday's hearing from Bloomington and Gary, Ind., didn't have violent backgrounds and are community activists in Indiana. The five are members of . They also support local efforts such as community gardens and feed the homeless, Garber added.
Still, "we will support the continued struggle to fight racism," Garber said.
Her sentiments were echoed by James Fennerty, attorney for Cody Sutherlin. Fennerty called the sentences for the men "severe."
Family of the Sutherlin brothers weren't in court Friday, Fennerty said. The three men have a disabled father who lives in Bloomington, Ind. and hope they can serve their sentence in a prison where he will be able to visit, the attorney said.
"They are all still going to be anti-racist," Fennerty said, "against any form of racism and anyone who doesn't respect [people] because of their color."
Attorneys allege prosecutors had political agenda
The defense attorneys have long questioned the motives of the state's attorney's office intent on prosecuting just the five, when as many as 18 people entered the Ashford House Restaurant the day of the brawl.
"If they are so concerned with justice, why aren't they going after the other 13 people?" Barrido asked.
And both Garber and Barrido agreed that if a non-neo Nazi hadn't been injured in the attack, a plea agreement could have gone differently.
"That was the one and only sympathetic part to this story," Garber said. "That had to be a scary experience for people who were just trying to enjoy their lunch."
Stuart Smith, attorney for John Tucker, said in previous interviews that orders to prosecute the five so harshly were "coming from higher up." Smith didn't elaborate further, but one of the victims injured in the attack who wasn't part of the neo Nazi group is reportedly the brother of a longstanding Cook County official.
At the hearing Friday, Smith told Aguilar that he wanted it on record that Tucker was going against his advice.
"I was honored to represent this man," Smith said. "He is a hero."
The five will be moved to Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill on Monday and it is expected to take two weeks for processing, Barrido said. Barrido said the three Sutherlin brothers are hoping to be able to serve their sentences in the same facility.
The case is over but it appears the disappointment surrounding its conclusion will remain.
"Do I feel like justice was served here today?" Barrido asked. "Absolutely not."
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