Defendants plead not guilty in Facebook torture case
Four people charged with kidnapping and attacking a Crystal Lake teen last month and streaming the assault live on Facebook entered pleas of not guilty Friday during a hearing at the George N. Leighton Criminal Courts Building in Chicago.
Brittany Covington, 19, and her sister Tanishia Covington, 24; Jordan Hill, 18; and Tesfaye Cooper, 18, all of Chicago, were arrested Jan. 3 and 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 has schizophrenia and attention deficit disorder.
If convicted of the most serious charges, the defendants face up to 30 years in prison.
Cooper, a former Hoffman Estates High School student, and the Covingtons are also charged with residential burglary. Hill, who attended Aurora's Core Academy and Hoffman Estates' Conant High School and was described as a friend of the Crystal Lake teen, is charged with robbery and possession of a stolen motor vehicle.
During the brief hearing Friday, Cook County Judge William Hooks granted a defense request that Brittany Covington, who has been held in Kankakee, be moved to Cook County jail. Cooper is being held in Kendall County, records show. Tanishia Covington and Hill are at the Cook County jail.
The attack on the teen unfolded between Dec. 31, 2016, and Jan. 2 at the Covingtons' apartment in Chicago. During that time, prosecutors say the defendants slapped, punched and harassed the teen; cut his scalp; made him drink toilet water; threatened to kill him; and forced him to make racial and derogatory statements about then President-elect Donald Trump. All four defendants are black; the Crystal Lake teen is white.
The 18-year-old was bound and gagged, prosecutors said. Hill is accused of calling the victim's mother and demanding a $300 ransom, prosecutors said.
The family of the victim declined to comment after the hearing, WBBM 780-AM reported. Last month, Amy Campanelli, the Cook County public defender, criticized pretrial news coverage of the case, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
"It is sad and unfortunate that many have commented on these young men and women without knowing all the facts," Campanelli said then. "Sensationalized, pervasive media coverage threatens to poison the jury pool for my clients. They've already been denounced in the media before anything has been proven, and now additional attention is being given, trying them in public before they have their day in court."
Citing reports of online threats, Cook County Judge Peggy Chiampas, during a previous hearing, forbade courtroom sketch artists from drawing the faces of the defendants or their attorneys.
The defendants next appear in court March 1.