SKOKIE CIRCUIT COURT — A man prosecutors say was at the scene when a developmentally disabled Rogers Park man was struck and killed in a robbery near the Howard Street L station testified Tuesday that he "heard like a thump or something."
"I saw the guy on the ground. I heard a body hit the ground, like, hard," said Parrish Morris, who prosecutors say was with Brandon Hinton when Hinton struck and killed John Costulas in the early morning hours of Sept. 2, 2011.
The testimony came in the first day in the trial of Hinton, 27, of Hazel Crest, who is charged with first degree murder for allegedly striking Costulas, 61.
The case has drawn special attention in the Rogers Park community, with Costulas' family and neighborhood supporters attending every hearing in the case for nearly two years. Evanston Ald. Ann Rainey also has attended the hearings and has called the attack "an example of the worst of humanity."
Defense attorney April Preyar told jurors "this wasn't premeditated," and therefore wasn't first degree murder. Jurors viewed video from surveillance cameras of the attack that prosecutors say includes Hinton and Morris.
Morris, who was brought to court from county lockup on an unrelated charge, is not charged as an accomplice to Hinton.
Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Edward McCarthy described to a jury how Costulas was struck in the face and robbed in the 500 block of West Howard Street in Evanston, dying eight days later at St. Francis Hospital of a "massive brain injury."
McCarthy said Hinton and Morris had been drinking at a Rogers Park bar, Oasis, on Sheridan Road. Shortly after 5 a.m., they left the bar and boarded a train north to the Howard Station, where the two men disembarked to buy cigarettes.
Meanwhile, "John Costulas was on his way to work, like every weekday morning," McCarthy said.
In front of a Marathon gas station, Hinton spotted Costulas, who was walking with a cane and wearing hearing aids, the prosecutor said.
Using his elbow and forearm, Hinton struck Costulas and, McCarthy said, "needless to say, John Costulas goes down. John Costulas never gets up."
Prosecutors said Hinton then went through Costulas' pockets and robbed him of $10 before fleeing the scene, only to return later "to see if he got away with it." A passerby, who took the witness stand Tuesday, called police.
Morris, on the witness stand Tuesday, said he and Hinton were friends since childhood. The two "had some drinks" at Oasis, boarded the train at Morse Avenue, disembarked at Howard and walked west to the gas station to buy cigarettes, he testified.
The gas station clerk, however, couldn't sell anything but gas until 7 a.m. The duo then stood on the sidewalk, until Costulas walked by, Morris said.
Viewing surveillance video of the attack, Evanston Police Department detective Mark Dobrowolski testified that it appeared to him Hinton was "rifling through" Costulas' pockets.
Detectives said Morris is the man in the video dressed in a red shirt. The shirt was confiscated from his nearby residence, where he lived with his mother, detectives said.
Detectives said they caught a break in the case when an anonymous tipster said he recognized Morris from the images distributed to the media by police.
Morris wasn't at his home when police arrived, but his mother, Valerie Morris, 51, told detectives that on the morning of the attack, her son told her that Hinton had hit someone "for no reason."
Parrish Morris turned himself in, and detectives were able to arrest Hinton at his Hazel Crest home.
Preyar and fellow defense attorney Brendan Shiller are arguing that Hinton did not plan to kill and rob Costulas. Following Hinson's attack, Preyar said, the robbery was a "crime of convenience."
On Tuesday at the Skokie courthouse where the trial is being held, Costulas' brother Nick said: "I think this is a slam dunk."
Nick Costulas, who has attended more than 20 pre-trial hearings in the case, added: "It'll be nice to bring this to an end."
The trial resumed at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. Prosecutors said they would call eight more witnesses and play Hinton's reported confession of the crime that was recorded by Evanston Police detectives.