CHICAGO – Defense attorneys for four people charged in an attack caught on cellphone video of a mentally disabled man said Friday the defendants have received death threats.
Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli said after a brief Friday hearing in the case that "sensationalized, pervasive media coverage" threatens to poison the jury pool. Neil Toppel, a public defender for one of the defendants, cited an online post calling for the "public execution" of the defendants and their supporters.
Judge Peggy Chiampas has barred cameras and sketch artists from the court during preliminary hearings for the four defendants.
The four were indicted Friday and their arraignment was scheduled for Feb. 10. Defense attorneys said they would try to have bail reduced for the four. Among the charges the four face are aggravated kidnapping and two counts of committing a hate crime — one because of the victim's race and the other because of his mental disabilities.
The graphic cellphone video shows the four black suspects taunting the white victim with profanities against white people and President-elect Donald Trump.
The beating was captured on cellphone video by one of the assailants and has since been viewed millions of times on social media. Prosecutors have said the 18-year-old victim has schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
"Sensationalized, pervasive media coverage threatens to poison the jury pool for my clients," Campanelli said. "They have already been denounced in the media before anything has been proven."
The defendants are three 18-year-olds — Jordan Hill of Carpentersville, Brittany Covington of Chicago and Tesfaye Cooper of Chicago — and 24-year-old Tanishia Covington of Chicago.
The incident began New Year's Eve, when the victim and alleged assailant Jordan Hill met at a suburban McDonald's, and then called his parents later to say he was staying with Hill for a sleepover.
Instead, Hill drove the victim around in a stolen van for a couple of days, ending up at a home in Chicago, where two of the other suspects lived, police said.
The victim eventually escaped and a police officer spotted him wandering down a street, bloodied and disoriented.