SKOKIE CIRCUIT COURT — At first, Brandon Hinton told detectives that he had nothing to do with the beating and robbery of John Costulas, a developmentally disabled Rogers Park man, in the early morning hours of Sept. 2, 2011.
Hinton had just been arrested at his Hazel Crest home 10 days after the attack, and Evanston Police Department detectives peppered him with questions, according to testimony and an interrogation video played before a jury Wednesday in a Skokie courthouse.
In less than 30 minutes, Hinton confessed to detectives Joe Bush and Aaron Wernick.
Hinton, 27, told detectives that he and a childhood friend, Parrish Morris, boarded an "L" train north after drinking outside the Oasis bar on North Sheridan Road. When they disembarked at the Howard Street "L" station, they tried to buy cigarettes at a gas station at 555 W. Howard St.
But the clerk wouldn't sell, he told detectives, so they stood on the sidewalk about 5 a.m. Then Hinton said he "punched" an old man walking with a cane and took $10 from his pocket.
"He fell. ... We ran," he was heard telling detectives.
"You know what happened to this guy that you struck?" said Bush in the video. "He died."
Hinton broke down sobbing.
"I got too much to live for. I got my little son. I can't go to jail for murder, man," he told the detectives. "I don't want to go to jail. ... I didn't want him to die."
More than two years later, Hinton sat expressionless on Wednesday — his elbows propped on top of the table and his hands clasped and in front of his mouth — before a jury in a Skokie courtroom as Cook County State's Attorneys built their case for a first-degree murder charge.
The trial entered its second day Wednesday after family and neighbors from Evanston and Rogers Park attended every pre-trial hearing in the case that has spanned years.
Following grainy surveillance video of the attack, the video interrogation was perhaps the most compelling evidence yet shown to the jury.
"My little son just got into school," Hinton told detectives in the video. "I don't want to be in jail for the rest of my life."
Costulas, 61, was attacked while walking from his Rogers Park home to the bus to go to work, like he did every weekday. His brother Nick Costulas said he worked at Lincoln Park's Anixter Center, a nonprofit organization that provides support to disabled people.
"He was just one of those guys who didn't want to stop working," he said.
Two days before Hinton's interrogation, Costulas died from a traumatic brain injury, according to the testimony Wednesday by Dr. Ponni Arunkumar, the Cook County assistant chief medical examiner.
She said Costulas was 5-feet-2-inches tall and weighed 113 pounds. An autopsy revealed a deep bruise on his back, which was consistent with blunt force trauma that could have been inflicted by falling backward onto a sidewalk.
She concluded that contusions on the right, left and front of the brain were caused by blunt head trauma due to an assault.
Brain swelling could have been the cause of death, she told jurors.
"It shows you the power of stupidity. This really shows that any little stupid act can result in death," said Bernard Garbo, of Rogers Park, who attended the trial.
"You listened to [the interrogation] and you start to feel bad," he said. "But at what point do you take responsibility for your actions?"
Hinton declined to testify Wednesday. The prosecution and defense plan to give closing arguments Thursday morning prior to the jury's deliberation.