Crime

Terror suspect gets public defender in Madison County court

Madison County Sheriff arrests Godfrey man on terrorism charges

Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons and Madison County Sheriff John Lakin announced terrorism charges against an 18-year-old Godfrey man during a press conference Thursday afternoon at the sheriff’s office in Edwardsville. Keaun L. Cook ha
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Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons and Madison County Sheriff John Lakin announced terrorism charges against an 18-year-old Godfrey man during a press conference Thursday afternoon at the sheriff’s office in Edwardsville. Keaun L. Cook ha

A Godfrey teenager facing terrorism charges was assigned a public defender Wednesday, as prosecutors push for him to be held without bail.

Keaun L. Cook has been charged with one count of material support for terrorism and one count of making a terrorist threat, both of which are class X felonies. He is accused of making verbal threats of mass casualty events at multiple locations in Madison County, which have not been disclosed by law enforcement.

Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons has said that Cook was in communication with a known terrorist organization overseas via multiple electronic means. Police were first aware of Cook on Aug. 24 after <adison County Sheriff’s deputies were summoned by a family member regarding Cook’s mental state. Family members have said he suffers from multiple mental illnesses.

Cook appeared before Madison County Associate Judge Jennifer Hightower on Wednesday. Gibbons said most of the hearing focused on whether he wanted an attorney, and eventually Cook requested representation. Madison County Public Defender John Rekowski was present at Hightower’s request, Gibbons said, and then asked for the case to be continued so he could review the information.

“(Hightower) asked him if he knew why he was there,” Gibbons said. “He said some vague things talking around it, and it was hard to tell... he wasn’t very specific. I think he was trying to characterize the circumstances of what he called ‘a misunderstanding.’”

The hearing was to focus on Cook’s bail, which was initially set at $150,000, but he could be freed on a 10-percent bond. Gibbons has requested a hearing to deny bail or at least require Cook to put up the entire amount.

Cook’s family members have publicly stated that they do not believe Cook was intentionally assisting terrorism, but instead suffers from multiple mental illnesses. Gibbons said he did not have “direct information” about Cook’s mental health and said the family would be in a better position to know the details.

But Gibbons said he believes the threat was real, and would resume if Cook were released. “There were actual communications between him and individuals located outside of the country,” he said. “At this point there is no reason to believe that threat has gone. Anyone can log onto Facebook, type in a search term and instantly be reconnected to terrorist organizations around the world. It’s frighteningly easy.”

Gibbons declined to give further details behind their case, but said they would be required to provide extensive detail at the bail hearing on Friday. “We are required to present a good amount of evidence, which gives us the opportunity to say some things we haven’t been able to say up until now,” Gibbons said. He said they intend to put at least one detective on the stand and play an audio recording of the defendant.

“At this point in time, we intend to do everything we can to keep him behind bars,” Gibbons said.

Gibbons said all the venues included in the alleged threat had been notified so that they could take the necessary security precautions, but would not say which venues had been threatened. Madison County Sheriff John Lakin has said no materials were recovered from Cook’s evidence to indicate the making of an explosive device or similar weapons.

Cook remains in custody at the Madison County Jail. He faces 30 to 40 years in prison on each count.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald

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