Man found guilty in karaoke singer's brutal murder

October 11, 2013 (CROWN POINT, Ind.)

Robert Lewis III, now 40, was taken into custody in April of 2011. He was selected out of a police photo lineup by employees of a restaurant where he and the victim, Jennifer Kocsis, were last seen.

Customers tell police Lewis just met Kocsis that night and was not a regular patron. Investigators say during a search of Lewis' home, they found blood believed to be Kocsis' in his bedroom.

Lewis was convicted of murder, murder in perpetration of criminal deviate conduct, criminal deviate conduct and resisting law enforcement in the beating and strangulation death of Kocsis, 37. Jurors also acquitted Lewis of murder in perpetration of robbery and robbery charges after about four hours of deliberation.

Lewis did not testify during his trial, which began Sept. 30 before Judge Diane Ross Boswell.

On Friday, the case will move into the penalty phase during which deputy prosecutors Catherine Breitweiser-Hurst and Reginald Marcus must prove aggravating circumstances and defense attorney T. Edward Page is expected to present evidence to mitigate or lessen the possibility of the maximum sentence of life without parole.

In her closing argument, Breitweiser-Hurst said Kocsis paid the ultimate price for her willingness to help a stranger in need. At about 2 a.m. April 2, 2011, Kocsis and Lewis left Pepe's Restaurant in Griffith, where Kocsis had gone to sing karaoke. Seven hours later, Kocsis' badly beaten, partially clothed body was found behind the shuttered Riley School, 1301 E. 43rd Ave., Gary.

Lewis had propositioned women in the restaurant bar before he left with Kocsis, witnesses said. The attack began inside Kocsis' Chevrolet Malibu - her broken glasses and blood were found inside the car, Breitweiser-Hurst argued. Legally blind in one eye, Kocsis got out of the car and was thrown up against it, based on evidence that included a piece of her tooth that adhered to the outside of her car. The assault continued, with her knees and hands scraped and cut as she fought for her life, Breitweiser-Hurst said. Lewis is 6 foot 1 and 260 pounds, and Kocsis was 5 feet 5 and 133 pounds. A shoe print impression was left on her bloody arm.

Evidence showed Lewis' DNA was found on the steering wheel of Kocsis' car, and his DNA was also present on an anal swab collected during her autopsy. Kocsis' car was left a short distance away, and one of Lewis' girlfriends picked him up outside his parents' home in the 800 block of East 44th Avenue, a less than 10-minute walk from where the car was left, Gary police Detective Michael Barnes testified.

In his closing argument, defense attorney T. Edward Page urged jurors not to "allow the natural sympathy we feel for such a loss to interfere with your duty as a juror."

Page argued that the state had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the felony murder charges. Page also told jurors that Lewis' girlfriend, Chakole Spurlock, knew more than she revealed on the witness stand. Lewis was married at the time. Spurlock admitted she lied to police and was uncooperative initially. Page said it was after Spurlock found out that Lewis was still married that she told police she'd allowed Lewis to burn behind her garage Kocsis' keys and the jacket, hat, shoes he was wearing the morning of the murder.

Spurlock, who testified under a grant of immunity from prosecution, said when she picked up Lewis from his parents' home, he had blood on his hands, and he showed her his bloody clothing. She noticed a "smudge" of blood on the leg of his jeans when they were staying at Comfort Inn in Hobart. Spurlock said Lewis told her his friend shot somebody and Lewis "finished him off" by kicking and choking the man.

As police were closing in on Lewis as a suspect in the murder, he led them on a high-speed chase that ended at 35th Avenue and Martin Luther King Drive. He gave several versions of the events that morning.

Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

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