CROWN POINT | Jurors on Friday quickly concluded they would not be able to reach a unanimous decision on imposing a sentence of life without parole for the convicted killer of a former schoolteacher from Griffith.
The jurors' conclusion returned the sentencing of Robert Lewis III to Lake Criminal Court Judge Diane Boswell, who set sentencing for Nov. 25.
At issue appeared to be a lack of agreement on the aggravating factor of murder while committing criminal deviate conduct.
Lewis, 40, a former Griffith man then living with his mother in Gary, was convicted Thursday of murder, murder during the perpetration of criminal deviate conduct, criminal deviate conduct and resisting law enforcement.
Jurors found Lewis guilty of killing and sexually assaulting Jennifer Kocsis, 37, after she agreed to give him a ride from a Griffith bar-restaurant around closing time the morning of April 2, 2011.
Prosecutors had sought a sentence of life without parole in connection with the vicious slaying, giving jurors the option of recommending the LWOP sentence on the two murder counts, or asking Boswell to sentence Lewis to a specific number of years. She retained the right to impose sentence on the two remaining felonies.
Following arguments by the deputy prosecuting attorney Catherine Breitweiser-Hurst and defense attorney T. Edward Page, jurors Friday deliberated an hour, returning to tell the judge they could not reach a determination on the aggravating factor that Kocsis was murdered during criminal deviate conduct.
A juror also informed the judge he had felt coerced into finding Lewis guilty. The juror asked to change his vote. The juror was informed criminal law prevents jurors from changing their mind.
Later Friday, a fellow juror denied pressuring the juror who sought the change.
"We did not coerce him," said the juror, who identified himself as Juror 222. "It upsets me what he told the judge."
The juror said he and the rest of the jury gave the man the opportunity to continue deliberations Thursday as long as it would take, but the man instead notified bailiffs the jury had come to a decision.
Had the jury opted for LWOP, Boswell was bound by law to accept the recommendation.
Instead, she now has the option of imposing LWOP or a specific number of years on both murder counts.
Before the jury's decision, Breitweiser-Hurst argued all evidence supported the viciousness of Kocsis' slaying and sexual violation.
"Everything you've seen in the last two weeks supports intentional killing," she told jurors.
The prosecuting attorney recounted the many injuries to Kocsis' head, face and body, the DNA links to Lewis, and witness testimonies to Lewis' involvement.
Page, the defense attorney, argued the slaying was not intentional, that it took place during a violent struggle when Kocsis resisted a sexual advance from Lewis. His client had misread the cues from Kocsis, he said.
He again disputed the state's position that DNA taken from Kocsis' body was sufficient to prove the aggravating factor of criminal deviate conduct.
He pleaded with jurors to allow the sentence to go to the judge because she was in a better position to decide a sentence.
Lewis was not an "unredeemable monster," Page argued.