Last Facebook Four defendant sentenced to seven years in prison
Engaging in abusive, hurtful behavior comes with consequences, a Cook County judge said Thursday during a sentencing hearing for the last of four defendants charged in a January 2017 attack on a Crystal Lake teen streamed live on social media.
For Tesfaye Cooper, the judge made that consequence a seven-year prison sentence.
Cooper, 20, pleaded guilty two weeks ago to aggravated kidnapping and a hate crime in an attack on the then-18-year-old, who prosecutors said suffers from a mental disability. At the time, Cooper also apologized to the victim, who is white, and the victim's family, who said their son and brother suffered emotional as well as physical wounds from the attack and for months feared the defendants would make good on their threats to kill him.
Cooper's sentence concludes the racially tinged case that attracted international attention and prompted a condemnation from former President Barack Obama. Cook County Judge William H. Hooks referenced its notoriety during the sentencing hearing.
"You recognize that in a civilized society, these kinds of activities cannot take place," said Hooks, adding he hoped the sentence "would discourage anybody else from engaging in anything close to what happened here."
While he condemned the behavior, Hooks reminded Cooper that he has a "future beyond this case." Taking responsibility for his behavior is the first step toward that future, Hooks said.
The next step, Hooks said, involves Cooper's availing himself of educational opportunities, social services and advice from people like his defense attorney Robert Willis.
"You have to decide what you want to do with this life," said Hooks, referencing civil rights crusader and journalist Ida B. Wells whose contributions will be marked by renaming a portion of Congress Parkway in her honor. "You can excel, or you can forfeit everything your forefathers and foremothers fought for."
Charged in the crime were Cooper, a former Hoffman Estates High School student; Jordan Hill, 20, a former Carpentersville resident who attended Aurora's Core Academy and Hoffman Estates' Conant High School; Tanishia Covington, 25, of Chicago; and her sister Brittany Covington, 20, also of Chicago. They were charged with aggravated kidnapping, a hate crime, unlawful restraint and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon in the attack, which unfolded between Dec. 31, 2016, and Jan. 2, 2017.
Prosecutors say Hill met up with the victim on New Year's Eve 2016 at a Streamwood fast-food restaurant. Cooper joined Hill and the victim and the three young men ended up at the Covingtons' Chicago apartment where authorities say the defendants punched, slapped and threatened the victim, cut a chunk of his hair, lacerating his scalp in the process, and forced him to drink toilet water. They also made derogatory and racially offensive statements about then-President-elect Donald Trump, authorities said.
During that time, Hill called the victim's family and demanded a $300 ransom, while in the background the victim could be heard screaming.
Chicago police found the young man outside the building, where he ran after neighbors called police, authorities said.
According to Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Risa Lanier, chief of the criminal prosecution bureau, Cooper and the others made three videos depicting the victim's "physical abuse and mental torture" and showing him bound and gagged.
In the videos, which were streamed on Facebook, Cooper "can be seen tormenting the victim with a knife," Lanier said.
Hill, who prosecutors said was a friend of the victim, pleaded guilty earlier this month to aggravated battery and a hate crime in exchange for an eight-year prison sentence. Tanishia Covington pleaded guilty in April to aggravated battery, intimidation and a hate crime in exchange for a three-year sentence.
Brittany Covington pleaded guilty in December 2017 to a hate crime and aggravated battery with intent to disseminate on video. She was sentenced to four years' probation and was ordered to perform 200 hours of community service and obtain her general equivalency diploma. She was also banned from social media for four years. Earlier this year, however, prosecutors say she violated her probation after software installed on her cellphone indicated someone logged onto Facebook from that device.
She next appears in court on Aug. 7 on the probation violation charge.