Killer gets life without parole in murder of Griffith teacher

2013-11-25T16:00:00Z 2013-12-28T21:27:45Z Killer gets life without parole in murder of Griffith teacherSusan Brown susan.brown@nwi.com, (218) 662-5425 nwitimes.com
November 25, 2013 4:00 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | A Lake County judge sentenced a man to life in prison Monday in the brutal slaying of a former schoolteacher from Griffith.

Robert Lewis III, 40, formerly of Griffith and Gary, will not be eligible for parole following his conviction in the slaying of Jennifer Kocsis.

Jurors last month were unable to reach a sentencing recommendation for Lewis.

The jury had the option of recommending life without parole or having the court sentence Lewis to a specific number of years. Without a decision, sentencing of Lewis returned to Lake Criminal Court Judge Diane Boswell.

At issue at the time was a lack of agreement on the aggravating factor of Lewis committing criminal deviate conduct during the slaying.

Lewis was found to have beaten and sexually assaulted Kocsis after she agreed to give him a ride from a Griffith bar-restaurant at closing time the morning of April 2, 2011.

Kocsis' battered, partially clad body later was discovered by people passing by the vacant school property where she was assaulted.

Deputy prosecuting attorney Catherine Breitweiser-Hurst told the court Monday the state had proven the killing was intentional as required for the sentence. Pathologists determined Kocsis suffered multiple blunt force trauma injuries, including "textbook" strangulation.

In addition, evidence linked Lewis to the sexual assault, she said.

Defense attorney T. Edward Page did not deny the viciousness of the attack but argued the killing was not intentional. Lewis' level of intoxication should have been considered a mitigating factor, Page argued.

However, Boswell ruled the evidence indicated Lewis wasn't drunk enough for alcohol to have clouded his judgment.

Following the sentencing, the victim's mother, Linda Carey, of Cedar Lake, described her daughter as a fun-loving 37-year-old who had many friends.

Carey said Kocsis was a loving daughter, great sister and a mentor to all Carey's grandchildren.

"I miss our late-night talks," Carey said.

Kocsis had been a premature baby who overcame many health hurdles, Carey said. Her daughter "came in fighting for her life," and she knew Kocsis went out the same way, she told the court during the sentencing hearing.

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