No bond for 4 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

For days, the mother of a schizophrenic 18-year-old man wondered where her son had gone after she dropped him off at a Streamwood McDonald’s on New Year’s Eve.

The teen was secretive about whom he was meeting, which was not unusual, the woman told Streamwood Police when she filed a missing person report last week. Twice, her son had contacted her to ask to spend the night at his friend’s, whom she would learn was a former classmate at an alternative school.

When she lost contact with her son, she tracked down the classmate. He asked for a $300 ransom for her son’s safe return, Cook County prosecutors said Friday at a court hearing that laid out new details in a racially charged kidnapping case that has garnered international attention.

The teen’s classmate, 18-year-old Jordan Hill, and three others were ordered held without bond on hate crime charges, as well as counts of kidnapping and assault, after allegedly inflicting a days-long ordeal on the victim. One of Hill’s’ friends, co-defendant Brittany Covington, allegedly broadcast several minutes of the abuse live on Facebook, video clips that have stirred outrage and even earned a rebuke from President Barack Obama.

Chastising the four before she ordered them all held without bond, Cook County Judge Maria Kuriakos Ciesel joined the chorus of those outraged by the allegations, though the judge said pointedly that she was “not on Facebook” and does not watch or read news reports.

“I’m looking at each of you as I’m hearing this,” Kuriakos Ciesel said. “Where was the sense of decency that each of you should have had when each of you were committing this crime?… I don’t see it.”

“How do you put someone out there that’s allegedly committed such horrible offenses against a person?”

The victim’s mother, seated in the front row of the courtroom gallery, exclaimed “Yes!” at the judge’s decision to hold all four defendants without bond.

Prosecutors have charged Hill, Covington, Tesfaye Cooper Jr. and Covington’s sister Tanishia Covington each with two hate crime counts, as well as charges of aggravated kidnapping, unlawful restraint, aggravated battery and other crimes. Prosecutors added the second hate crime count Friday, apparently because the attackers targeted their victim due to his race and his disability.

The Covington sisters had eight family members in the courtroom gallery; after the hearing, all walked past the throng of reporters without responding to questions, the women’s mother and sisters all in tears.

Assistant Public Defender Wendy Fawcett, representing Cooper and Hill, said that Hill had lived most of his life with his grandmother, who is indigent and unable to attend the hearing. Cooper’s brother, Twin Carder, was thrown out of the courtroom as his brother was led into the courtroom by sheriff’s deputies.

Outside the courthouse, Carder said he had tried to tell his brother he would cover his bond.

“He ain’t meant to do that,” Carder said of the abuse. “He was under the influence — high, drunk, whatever he was doing. The dude was one of his friends, knew him. ‘Sposed to be, anyway.”

Prosecutors said that the victim’s mother dropped him off at a McDonald’s in Streamwood on Dec. 31, where the 18-year-old said he was meeting a friend. In a Streamwood Police missing person report, investigators said the woman admitted she did not know the name of friend, and that her son did not like to tell her who he was with.

Assistant State’s Attorney Erin Antonietti said Hill and the victim then went to buy and smoke marijuana, and that Hill stole a vehicle, identified in police reports as a white Chevrolet van and drove to Chicago, and left the victim sitting in the back of the van for two hours or more. Hill also has been charged with robbery and possession of a motor vehicle.

Antonietti said that the victim had “contacted” his mother on Dec. 31, asking to spend the night, and asked to stay over again on Jan. 1.

On Jan. 2, after receiving no communication from the victim, his brother logged into the victim’s Facebook account and read a string of messages arranging the victim’s visit with Hill. Antonietti said the victim’s mother had reached out to Hill over Facebook, asking to talk to her son, and for Hill to bring him home.

Antonietti said the victim’s mother was “contacting” Hill while the victim was alone in the van and that Hill returned to the van angry about the repeated attempts. Hill ordered the victim into the back of the van, and began beating him and took his cell phone and sim card, Antonietti said.

Hill took the victim to a third-floor apartment in the 3300 block of West Lexington, where they met with the Covingtons and Cooper. They ordered the victim to sit in a corner facing a wall, and began screaming at the victim.

Antonietti’s timeline was somewhat jumbled; she noted that the victim’s mother had been contacted by her son on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, to ask if he could spend the night at his friend’s house.

On Jan. 3, Brittany Covington began posting video of the abuse on Facebook live, images prosecutors cited extensively in court Friday.

“The victim is tied up then gagged. A sock is placed in the victim’s mouth and then his mouth is taped shut. The victim is forced back in to a corner,” Antonietti said. “One of the male defendants in the background can be hear yelling “F— Donald Trump” and “f— white people.” Hill uses a knife to slice off a chunk of the victim’s hair, cutting his head, then slicing at the sleeves of the victim’s sweatshirt as the man stares, terrified, at Hill, as laughing is heard from behind the camera.

“A male voice is heard saying ‘I don’t give a f— if he’s schizophrenic,’” Antonietti said. “A male shoves the victim’s face into a toilet bowl and the victim is told to drink toilet water.”

At some point during the ordeal, Antonietti said, Hill demanded $300 from the victim’s mother for the victim’s safe return.

The morning of Jan. 3, two women living in the second floor apartment complained about the noise upstairs. When they came upstairs to complain again around 5 p.m., the Covingtons and Cooper chased them back to their apartment, and Hill threatened to come downstairs with a gun. Cooper kicked in the door to the women’s apartment, knocking the door off its hinges.

The women ran out a backdoor to their first-floor neighbor’s apartment and called police. The women saw the victim run out a back door as they listened to the four defendants stomping around their apartment, Antoinetti said. When police arrived, the Covingtons, Hill and Cooper ran out the back door as well. Police found the torture victim, bloodied, wearing sandals and torn clothing, walking nearby.

Antonietti said the man was treated and released from a nearby hospital, but had suffered cuts to his head, face and body and a stab wound to his left arm.

Fawcett said Hill attended Core Academy and worked for a staffing firm. Cooper, she said, lived in Cicero with his mother and six siblings, including a paralyzed brother whose care Cooper helped provide–a fact Kuriakos Ciesel repeated in her call for “decency” from the defendants. Tanishia Covington, at 24, the oldest of four, has a 2-year-old daughter and an 11-month-old.

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