The Crystal Lake 18-year-old who was held against his will and terrorized in an attack streamed live on Facebook awoke panicking for months in fear his attackers had returned to make good on their threats to kill him, his sister wrote in a statement read in court Thursday, where the last of four defendants pleaded guilty.
“He would ask multiple times every day if they were still in jail and we had to reassure him they would be there for a long while and that he did not have to worry,” the sister wrote in a statement read in court by Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Risa Lanier, chief of the criminal prosecution bureau.
Tesfaye Cooper pleaded guilty Thursday to aggravated kidnapping and a hate crime in the 2017 attack on the teen. Cooper, who apologized in court, will be sentenced July 26, Judge William H. Hooks ruled during the hearing at the George N. Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago.
Hooks allowed prosecutors to present aggravation testimony on behalf of the victim, who they said suffers from a mental disability. He was not in court, but his parents, sister and brother-in-law were present and were visibly moved as Lanier read the victim impact statement.
“That 18-year-old was our son, our brother, our uncle but most importantly, a human being,” Lanier read. “The lack of compassion and complete disregard for (the victim’s) life is incomprehensible.”
Cooper’s guilty plea nearly concludes the case, which attracted international attention and prompted condemnation from former President Barack Obama.
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, 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. They were joined by Cooper, and the three of them ended up at the Covingtons’ Chicago apartment. There, according to authorities, 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. The victim is white, and the defendants are black.
During that time, Hill called the victim’s family and demanded a $300 ransom, authorities said.
“During these phone calls, (the victim) could be heard screaming with fear in the background,” his sister wrote.
Police found the young man outside the apartment building after neighbors called police.
The defendants made three videos portraying the victim’s “physical abuse and mental torture” and showing him bound and gagged, Lanier said. In the videos, which were streamed on Facebook, Cooper “can be seen tormenting the victim with a knife,” Lanier said.
In her statement, the victim’s sister described the lethargy, depression and post-traumatic stress he has experienced. The scar on his head is a constant reminder of the attack, his sister wrote.
“We worry if it is safe to continue to live here because of what the defendants may do when they get out of jail. … (The victim) and our family no longer have the privilege of living the life we considered normal.”
At the conclusion of the statement, Cooper turned to the family and apologized.
“I’m sorry for the situation,” he said. “I apologize for the pain I put you through.”
Hill, who prosecutors said was a friend of the victim, pleaded guilty last week 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 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.
Brittany Covington returns to court Aug. 7 on the probation violation charge.
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