Threats force judge in Facebook torture case to ban courtroom sketches
Reported threats against the defendants accused of kidnapping and torturing a Crystal Lake teenager have been so disturbing a Cook County judge on Friday forbid courtroom sketch artists from drawing their faces or the faces of their attorneys.
Defense attorneys in the case -- which involves acts streamed live on Facebook earlier this month -- referenced an online "execution threat" made against the defendants and anyone who supports them, presumably including their defense team.
"To me it sounds like someone put out a death threat," Assistant Public Defender Neil Toppel said after the hearing before Judge Peggy Chiampas.
Chiampas' ruling accompanied prosecutors' announcement of felony indictments against four people charged in the attacks.
Brittany Covington, 18, her sister Tanishia Covington, 24, Tesfaye Cooper, 18, and Jordan Hill, 18, are charged with aggravated kidnapping, unlawful restraint, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and a hate crime in the attack on the 18-year-old, who prosecutors say has schizophrenia and attention deficit disorder.
Cooper, a former Hoffman Estates High School student, and the Covingtons also are charged with residential burglary. Hill, who attended Aurora's Core Academy and Hoffman Estates' Conant High School, is also charged with robbery and possession of a stolen motor vehicle.
If convicted of the most serious charges, the defendants face up to 30 years in prison.
They have been held without bail in Cook County jail since their arrest Jan. 3. The attack against the teen took place between Dec. 31, 2016, and Jan. 2. Prosecutors say it consisted of the defendants slapping, punching and harassing the teen and forcing him to drink toilet water, prosecutors said. The black defendants also forced the white victim to utter racial epithets and derogatory statements about then President-elect Donald Trump, authorities alleged. Afterward, they bound him, stuffed a sock in his mouth and duct-taped it shut, prosecutors said.
According to authorities, the video shows a man placing his foot on the teen's head, a woman laughing and punching him and a man cutting the victim's hair and scalp with a knife. The video also includes a male voice threatening to kill the teen, prosecutors said.
Over the course of the attack, prosecutors said, Hill demanded a $300 ransom from the victim's mother.
In statements to reporters after the hearing, Public Defender Amy Campanelli expressed concern that media coverage could poison the jury pool.
"(The defendants) have already been denounced in the media before anything has been proven," she said adding they are being "tried in public before they have their day in court."
All four will be arraigned on Feb. 10.