U student to stand trial alone?

More than five months after their arrest, eight RNC protesters facing terrorism-related charges met their new judge and got a better understanding of how their trial will take shape. Scheduling hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday âÄî the first individual court appearances made by the eight since the legal process began âÄî signify a distinctly different feel to the case for the protesters who want to be tried together at a single trial. Before, the eight had appeared before a judge together. But now the Ramsey County AttorneyâÄôs Office is treating the cases as separate from one another, which defendants hint could threaten the courtroom solidarity they hope for. Each member of the RNC 8 faces identical charges âÄî conspiracy to riot in the furtherance of terrorism, conspiracy to riot, conspiracy to damage property in furtherance of terrorism and conspiracy to damage property âÄî based on the same evidence. Ramsey County District Judge Teresa Warner took over the case after the previously assigned judge removed himself, citing an unidentified conflict of interest. With the other judge, they sat through a scheduling hearing together âÄî a difference that concerns RNC 8 member and University of Minnesota cultural studies junior Max Speckto r. Besides the fact that one trial would offer a better opportunity for RNC 8 backers to show up and offer support, he said multiple trials waste the courtâÄôs time and money. âÄúIt makes sense to go through the process efficiently âÄî to have us all together,âÄù Specktor said. âÄúThe court is just wasting tons of money because we have the same evidence.âÄù But eight defendants at the same trial could conflict with constitutional trial rights, said Ramsey County AttorneyâÄôs Office spokesman Paul Gustafson . For example, if one co-defendant said something to implicate another, the trialâÄôs integrity could be compromised. Additionally, he said, thereâÄôs a presumption in Minnesota that criminal cases are handled individually. âÄúWeâÄôre not looking for joint trials,âÄù he said. âÄúWeâÄôre concerned about constitutional issues having to do with the rights of separate defendants.âÄù In the future, the judge could opt to schedule joint hearings, but that doesnâÄôt translate to a single trial. While these individual hearings werenâÄôt meant to plan a start date for the actual trial, prosecutors anticipate a trial could begin as early as September. But thatâÄôs still up in the air. âÄúWe donâÄôt have any magic time frame in terms of when we want these things to go to trial,âÄù Gustafson said. âÄúWe simply need to let the process work itself out.âÄù SpecktorâÄôs lawyers donâÄôt expect pretrial proceedings to conclude in time for September. And thatâÄôs fine with him, because it means more time to generate attention for the RNC 8 and develop a case strategy. âÄúWe havenâÄôt figured out our whole strategy yet,but we want to make it a political trial and highlight the politics of it,âÄù he said, referring to the charges, which his supporters say are trumped up by the prosecutors to quash public protest and dissent. Specktor said heâÄôs due in court again on Feb. 24 to deal with issues relating to 18,000 pages of evidence against the RNC 8 currently held by prosecutors. And as court proceedings drag on, Specktor said the gravity of his situation âÄî each of the defendants faces a maximum of 12 years in prison âÄî is clear. âÄúEvery time I go to court, itâÄôs kind of like a reality check,âÄù he said. âÄúAs long as they donâÄôt succeed in separating us, as long as we donâÄôt go separately, IâÄôll be happy.âÄù Karlee Weinmann is a senior staff reporter