Testimony begins in murder trial of Gary man
BY RUTH ANN KRAUSE Post-Tribune correspondent October 1, 2013 6:50PM
Robert Lewis III, was sentenced Monday to life in prison for killing a Griffith woman. | Provided
Updated: November 3, 2013 6:29AM
Lake Superior Court jurors began hearing evidence Tuesday in the murder trial of a Gary man who faces a sentence of life without parole if convicted.
Robert Lewis III, 41, has pleaded not guilty to six charges, including felony murder counts that allege that he killed Jennifer Kocsis in 2011 while robbing her and while committing deviate sexual conduct.
In her opening statement to the seven-man, five-woman jury, deputy prosecutor Catherine Breitweiser-Hurst said surveillance footage will show Kocsis briefly interacting with Lewis at Pepe’s in Griffith after she sang a couple of karaoke songs and also of Lewis in the passenger seat of her maroon Chevrolet Malibu as she pulled out of the parking lot
Kocsis’ body was discovered at about 11 a.m. April 2, 2011, outside the closed Riley School in Gary by a man who went to play basketball there with his son and nephew. Kocsis, 37, of Griffith, died of blunt force trauma to the head and chest.
Defense attorney T. Edward Page told jurors in his opening statement that prosecutors will ask the jury to speculate and urged them to pay close attention to the testimony, including that of Lewis’ girlfriend, who told police several versions of the events of the morning of Kocsis’ death and the days following.
Kocsis’ mother, Linda Carey, described her oldest child as someone who loved music and was an accomplished clarinet player in her younger years. Kocsis had earned a degree in elementary education but was unemployed at the time of her death. She loved her family and especially her youngest brother who has autism and seizure disorder. “Basically, she loved life and she loved people. She never thought that anyone would hurt her,” Carey said.
Kocsis was 14 when the family discovered she was legally blind in her right eye, which turned to the side.
Photos introduced as evidence show a smiling Kocsis, nothing like the photographs Carey said she saw at the morgue when she identified her daughter’s body. “She looked like she had given the fight of her life,” Carey said. “She was red, black and blue. She was totally spent.”
Another prosecution witness, Rebecca Hixon testified she had seen Kocsis singing karaoke at Pepe’s. Hixon also described encounters with Lewis, who uses the nickname “Dollar Rob,” including the night before Kocsis was killed in which he tried to persuade Hixon to take his phone number and call him after telling her he is intimate only with white women and that he has money.
Lewis also pressed Hixon to give him a ride home after the friend he arrived with left Pepe’s, she said. “I felt uncomfortable,” Hixon said, and enlisted the waitress’ help in occupying Lewis while she and her friend made their exit.
In other developments, Judge Diane Ross Boswell told Page she had changed her mind about barring mitigation specialist and paralegal Erin Clarich from court during the trial. A mitigation specialist investigates the background of a defendant, including education, childhood, employment, and other factors that can be presented to lessen the possibility of imposition of a maximum sentence. Boswell said she conferred with other judges and would allow Clarich, who is not a witness in the case, to be present.