CROWN POINT | A Lake Superior Court jury convicted a Gary man in the slaying of a former local schoolteacher after deliberating for about four hours Thursday.
Robert Lewis III, 40, was found guilty of murder, murder during the perpetration of criminal deviate conduct, criminal deviate conduct and fleeing police. After the conviction of murder, the sentencing phase of the trial begins at 8:30 a.m. Friday morning, when Lewis faces a possible sentence of life in prison without parole.
Lewis brutally beat and sexually assaulted 37-year-old Jennifer Kocsis, of Griffith, in April 2011 after she offered him a ride from a Griffith bar-restaurant.
During closing arguments Thursday, the ninth day of trial, deputy prosecuting attorney Catherine Breitweiser-Hurst told jurors the last act of kindness by Kocsis, a woman known for her trusting and giving ways, cost the woman her life.
Testimony of other witnesses showed Lewis had been asking for a ride throughout the night of April 1, she said.
Lewis made no secret he "was going to get some tail" that night anyway he could, Breitweiser-Hurst told jurors.
Breitweiser-Hurst then proceeded to paint a night of terror, beginning with Lewis punching Kocsis, who was blind in one eye, in the face as she sat in the driver's seat of her car. Her broken glasses were found inside the car, where a struggle had clearly taken place, prosecutors said.
Taking her from the car, Lewis then bashed Kocsis' head into a back panel of the car, where a tooth was found embedded in the panel, Breitweiser-Hurst said.
The prosecutor said evidence showed Kocsis fought back and even managed to break away before she was dragged to a secluded area behind the closed Riley Elementary School. There, she was strangled, kicked in the face and stomped on. Treads from Lewis' shoes were imprinted on Kocsis' arm and chest, and her nose, clavicle and ribs were broken.
Kocsis' body was found face down and partially clothed the next morning, the wall behind her splattered with blood. Evidence showed she had been sodomized, Breitweiser-Hurst told jurors.
"Every piece of the puzzle perfectly fits," she told jurors.
Defense attorney T. Edward Page conceded the state had proved Lewis led police on a high-speed chase as they arrived to serve him a warrant.
However, Page questioned what had happened in the victim's car, where the struggle began, arguing it appeared to be violent but unplanned.
He also questioned the truthfulness of Lewis' on-again, off-again girlfriend, Chakole Spurlock, the state's key witness who was granted immunity.
Page questioned Spurlock's account to police that Lewis' hands were bloody despite having changed clothes.