COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — The four people accused of kidnapping and torturing a mentally disabled suburban man were denied bail Friday and now face upgraded hate-crime charges.
The foursome made its first court appearance Friday after news of the case made international headlines. The torture played out on the West Side of Chicago, not far from the Cook County Criminal Courthouse where the suspects appeared alongside public defenders about 1:30 p.m. Friday.
A huge media contingent was on hand.
The four are accused of live-streaming on Facebook a four-plus-hour attack on an 18-year-old man, who had been friends with one of his tormenters before police said a "playfight" escalated into a racially charged hate crime.
The victim, a white man with schizophrenia and attention-deficit disorder, was repeatedly beaten, forced to drink toilet water and asked by his black attackers to yell, "I love black people," and, "F--- Trump," over the course of several days, prosecutors allege.
The victim's mother repeatedly contacted one accused attacker, trying to find her missing son.
"Where was the sense of decency that each of you should have had?" Judge Maria Kuriakos Ciesil asked in court Friday. "Where was the sense of decency when the victim's mother reached out? ... Where was it? I don't see it."
As the judge announced her no-bail order, a woman in the crowd screamed "Yes!" and began clapping loudly. Relatives of the two accused women broke down in tears.
The four people allegedly doling out the abuse on the video — Jordan Hill, 18; Tesfaye Cooper, 18; and sisters Brittany Covington, 18, and Tanishia Covington, 24 — are charged with hate crime, aggravated kidnapping for ransom, aggravated armed kidnapping, aggravated unlawful restraint, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and residential burglary. Hill faces additional charges of robbery and possession of a stolen motor vehicle.
According to prosecutors, it all began Dec. 31 when the victim's mother dropped off her son at a suburban Streamwood McDonald's so that he could meet Hill, a friend from an alternative high school.
Hill stole a van, prosecutors said, and drove the victim and a third person to buy marijuana in Chicago. Hill then left the victim alone in the van for roughly two hours, according to Assistant State's Attorney Erin Antonietti, who spoke during a bond hearing Friday.
During that time, Antonietti said, the victim's mother repeatedly called Hill in an effort to learn about her son's whereabouts. That enraged Hill so much, prosecutors said, that he returned to the van and beat the victim. Hill is accused of stealing the victim's phone and SIM card before taking the man to a third-floor apartment in the 3300 block of West Lexington Street.
There, Hill met up with Cooper and the Covington sisters, prosecutors said.
Hill and Cooper are accused of forcing the victim into a corner and berating the man while Hill was armed with a knife. The duo forced the victim to yell, "I love black people," and "F--- Trump," as he kissed the floor, Antonietti said.
On Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, the victim contacted his mother and asked to spend the night at a friend's house. But all communication stopped by Jan. 2, prosecutors said, and the victim's mother began contacting Hill through Facebook.
On Jan. 3, Brittany Covington began recording the abuse, which she streamed live on Facebook for more than four hours, authorities said. All four suspects are seen clearly in the recordings.
Hill and Cooper rifled through the victim's pockets before forcing him to drink toilet water while punching him in the head and ordering him to say, "F--- Trump," prosecutors said. The Covington sisters yell and mock the victim.
At that point, Antonietti said, the victim was tied up and gagged. A sock was placed in his mouth, which was then taped shut. A male voice is heard shouting, "F--- Donald Trump," and, "F--- white people."
Hill used a knife to cut a chunk of the victim's hair, prosecutors said, leaving a laceration on his head. Hill stabbed the victim in his left forearm, according to Antonietti, while the Covington sisters slapped the man in his face and body.
Among other things, prosecutors said, the four-hour video depicts the victim sitting in a corner with duct tape across his mouth and belts around his hands and neck. The victim's sweatshirt is cut while a female laughs. Voices shout, "F--- Trump," and, "F--- white people." A female punches the victim, laughing. A male puts his foot on the victim's head.
As the torture continued, prosecutors said, a male voice can be heard stating, "I don't give a f--- if he's schizophrenic." At one point, the victim screamed, "No!," when a man walks over with a knife and asks, "Should I shank his a--?"
The tormenters also threatened to kill the victim multiple times, Antonietti said.
During the course of the attack, Hill told the victim's mother she could have her son back for $300, according to prosecutors.
Neighbors in a second-floor apartment went upstairs Jan. 3 to complain about the constant banging, yelling, stomping and laughing that emanated from the third-floor apartment as torture took place, Antonietti said.
Later that same day, about 5 p.m., the second-floor neighbors again went upstairs to complain about noise, according to prosecutors.
That's when Hill ran out of the building's front door, threatening to return with a gun, Antonietti said. Cooper and the Covington sisters chased the neighbors back down to the second floor, where Cooper reportedly kicked in their front door. The neighbors ran out their back door, prosecutors said, and called 911.
It was during this commotion that the torture victim was able to escape, Antonietti said.
When police spotted the man, he had cut clothing, visible injuries and was wearing sandals, prosecutors said. He suffered cuts and lacerations to his head, face and body, as well as a stab wound to his left arm. There were also bruises and lacerations on the man's back, Antonietti said.
As he recovers, the victim is "doing as well as he could be at this time," his family said Thursday evening. Relatives watched video of the attack, the victim's brother-in-law said.
"We're just happy he's home," said another family member, who said she felt utter "disbelief" when watching the video.
The case even drew a rebuke from The White House.
In an interview with CBS2, President Obama called the abuse "despicable." His press secretary, Josh Ernest, said it showed "a level of depravity that is an outrage to a lot of Americans."
But, Obama added, “I think the overall trajectory of race relations in this country is actually very positive."
"It doesn’t mean that all racial problems have gone away," Obama said. "It means that we have the capacity to get better."
The video streamed on Facebook showed the man with his hands tied and his mouth covered. One of the attackers claims to drop cigarette ashes on the man’s bleeding wounds.
"Let me be very clear," Supt. Johnson said at a Thursday news conference. "The actions in that video are reprehensible. That alone with racism have absolutely no place in the city of Chicago or anywhere for that matter against anyone regardless of their race, gender, state of mental health or any other identifying factor."
Police said the victim was so traumatized after the incident that it took him most of an evening to speak to officers about what happened.
A GoFundMe campaign to help the victim has raised more than $15,400 since it was launched early Thursday.
Supt. Johnson chalked up the video's anti-Trump comments to "stupidity." He does not believe the attack was politically motivated.
"I really can't say what's in the mind of four individuals that would do something as sickening as this," Johnson said. "But I can't connect what these folks did" with Trump's comments about Chicago violence.
"It's people just ranting about something they think might make a headline."
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