Judge bars cameras in Facebook torture case

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Brittany Covington, of Chicago; (clockwise from upper left) Tesfaye Cooper, of Chicago; Jordan Hill, of Carpentersville; and Tanishia Covington, of Chicago. | Chicago Police

A Cook County judge on Thursday said she will not allow cameras at upcoming court hearings for the four people charged in the infamous Facebook Live attack against a schizophrenic man.

Judge Peggy Chiampas cited “safety and security concerns” when issuing her ruling that pertains solely to proceedings in the preliminary hearing process.

Chiampas also barred sketch artists from drawing the defendants in jail garb at the court hearings.

“Their photos have been disseminated through all forms of social media,” Chiampas noted of the defendants, who have been ordered held in Cook County Jail pending trial.

Although the 18-year-old suburban white man who was attacked would most likely not be filmed or photographed, he and his mother and other witnesses objected to the extended media coverage requested by WBBM-TV. The African-American defendants, who were in court Thursday, also objected.

“I wish to be afforded dignity, privacy and respect throughout the criminal justice process,” wrote the man who was targeted in the incident that attracted international attention.

Assistant public defenders representing Tanishia Covington, her sister Brittany Covington, Jordan Hill and Tesfaye Cooper said cameras in the courtrooms would only sensationalize the matter that resulted in hate-crime charges against the four. Their right to a fair trial would be compromised, they argued, partly because their clients would be shown in jail uniforms.

RELATED STORIES: No bond for 4 in Facebook torture case 4 face hate-crime charges in videotaped attack Is ‘bystander effect’ why no one called 911 about abusive videos?

The defense attorneys also pointed to a recent Tumblr post that called for the executions of suspects.

“All four of them or anyone who supports them should be put up against a wall and executed painfully. I honest to God hope all four of them are put to death, either by law or by a good Samaritan. And given the chance, I’d happily be that good Samaritan,” someone wrote on the Tumblr page.

Cameras have been allowed at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse as part of a pilot program that started in 2015. Lawyers may object to the cameras and the presiding judge ultimately decides whether cameras will be allowed in court during hearings and at trial.

Chiampas noted that when the four defendants appear in court Friday, the hearing will be “routine, if not perfunctory.”

Deidra White, a news planning manager at WBBM, told Chiampas that the hearing and others that would follow would be “highly interesting and newsworthy.”

Assistant Public Defendant William Wolf, who represents Hill, said cameras in the courtroom would only make a “public spectacle” of what could become the “biggest press case” at the courthouse within the past decade.

“The definition of newsworthy has been changed so that it’s a better show,” he said.

Photographs of his client and the others wearing jail clothes would “portray them as prisoners” and would ultimately “contaminate the jury pool,” Wolf said.

Tanishia Covington, 24, Brittany Covington, 18, Hill and Cooper, also 18, are accused of holding the man captive in a West Side apartment earlier this month, allegedly forcing him to drink toilet water and cutting his scalp with a knife while making him proclaim, “I love black people.”

While the man was being tortured during the several-hour ordeal, one of his tormentors allegedly said on video: “I don’t give a f— if he is schizophrenic.”

Someone in the apartment also said, “F— Trump” and “F— white people” and Hill, a classmate of the victim, called up the man’s mother and asked for $300 ransom for his safe return, prosecutors said.

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