Candlelight Vigil for Liberty City Seven Draws Dozens Downtown

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Just before 8 last night, two dozen protesters in white T-shirts stared at the hulking Federal Detention Center downtown and held their breath.

From one of the highest slit-like windows cut into the massive concrete face, a pinprick of light suddenly waved back and forth. The crowd erupted.

"That's Sunny!" Kobina Bantushango, one of the protest organizers, shouted into a megaphone. "We here for you, man! We here for you!"

Behind the thick prison walls, watching the protest below, was Stanely "Sunny" Phanor, one of the five defendants in the infamous "Liberty City Seven" case, awaiting sentencing later this week.

In 2006, the feds charged the men with plotting to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower and planning to "wage a full ground war on the United States." But as we've chronicled in New Times, the case was mostly an overblown Bush-era travesty, complete with crooked informants and stacked juries.

In May, after two straight mistrials, a jury finally convicted five of the seven men. Another awaits deportation hearings. Only Naudimar Herrera, a 25-year-old Dominican-American, was acquitted.

Herrera joined the crowd of protesters outside the FDC last night. "We're here to remember our brothers," Herrera said. "We just want them to remember that we're here and we ain't going to forget about them."

The five men found guilty -- group leader Narseal Batiste, Phanor, Patrick Abraham, Rotschild Augustine, and Burson Augustine -- could face decades in prison when U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard doles out sentences later this week.

But there's a decent chance the jail terms won't hold up in the long run.

An appeal is already in the works, and is likely to hinge on complaints over Lenard's dismissal of a juror. Lenard said the juror was "refusing to deliberate," but court records suggest she was booted for refusing to budge from a "not guilty" stance.

"These guys are all innocent," says Debbie Carter, a California accountant who helped plan Sunday's rally and has spearheaded a campaign on the men's behalf.

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