Crime

Teen communicated with overseas terrorist group, prosecutor says

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 Madison County grand jury returned an indictment Thursday charging a Godfrey teenager with terror-related offenses.

Keaun L. Cook, 18, 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 Madison 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.

Charges were initially filed by Gibbons’ office, but this week they presented evidence of probable cause to the Madison County grand jury, he said. The grand jury returned an indictment on the two terrorism charges Thursday, according to court records.

An indictment is a more formal method of charging someone with a crime. Grand jury deliberations are not subject to public observance. With an indictment, prosecutors are not required to present evidence at a preliminary hearing, which is open to the public.

Cook’s bail was initially set at $150,000 and he could have been freed by posting 10 percent cash for bond. But Madison County Circuit Judge Richard Tognarelli ordered Cook be held without bail after the grand jury indictment.

Gibbons had already requested a hearing to deny bail or at least require Cook to put up the entire $150,000 in cash, but that hearing is likely moot at this point, Gibbons said. “I think this (grand jury indictment) supersedes anything that happened before,” he said.

However, he anticipates the issue of bail may come back up.

“What I anticipate will happen... is that his defense counsel will file a motion for reduction of bond, and we will renew the motion we made previously,” Gibbons said.

Cook is represented by Public Defender John Rekowski, who could not immediately be reached for comment.

All of that is on hold, however, because Cook is currently being evaluated on his mental fitness to stand trial. Gibbons said Illinois sets “a pretty low bar” to be found sane enough to stand trial, but said he would leave that determination to the experts. If Cook is found mentally fit, the state will move forward with its prosecution; if not, he will remain secured in a psychiatric facility until he is found fit to stand trial. If that is ever deemed unlikely to happen, he could be found not guilty by reason of insanity.

“As long as he is behind bars and the community is safe, that’s fine with me,” Gibbons said.

Cook’s family members have publicly stated that they do not believe Cook was intentionally assisting terrorism, but instead suffers from multiple mental illnesses.

While details of Cook’s actions and the alleged threat have not been publicly released, law enforcement officials have said they believe the threat was real, but has been stopped by Cook’s arrest.

“There’s been no evidence to suggest the involvement of anyone else locally and no evidence that I’m aware of that indicates anyone is on their way here,” Gibbons said. “The intervention happened early enough to prevent this from moving forward.”

Cook remained in custody Friday 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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