Three black teens accused of attacking a white eighth-grader in Beverly Park will not face hate crime charges
Micha Eatman, 17, and two unnamed 16-year-olds face robbery and aggravated battery charges in connection with a Sunday afternoon beating that left 14-year-old Ryan Rusch unconscious with severe head injuries.
One of the juvenile attackers told police they picked Ryan because he was a "goofy white kid."
But prosecutors said Wednesday that race was not necessarily the motive for the thrashing.
"They wanted to pick on someone vulnerable, but it could just as easily have been a goofy black kid," state's attorney's office supervisor Al Tomaso said after court hearings Wednesday.
Ryan Rusch remains at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. He's no longer in a drug-induced coma. Doctors took him off a breathing machine Wednesday. The St. John Fisher School student, who suffers from a serious heart defect, woke up Wednesday morning groggy but curious to know what happened to him, a family friend said.
Chicago police did not interview Ryan on Wednesday. They plan to speak with him when he is better, spokesman Pat Camden said.
More details about Sunday's beating were revealed Wednesday during court hearings for two of the three accused attackers.
The three teens — a Morgan Park High School student, a Corliss High School student and Eatman — rode on two bicycles to Beverly Park, 2530 W. 103rd St., and arrived about 2:15 p.m., police and prosecutors said.
Assistant State's Attorneys Lorraine Scaduto and Cheryl Lenard said the boys were hoping to steal a bicycle or "hit a stain," slang for a mugging.
The Morgan Park student, who turned himself in to police, told officials Ryan was "just strolling along" and had "never seen it coming," Lenard said.
The Corliss student, who told officials Ryan was targeted because he was "a goofy white kid," attacked Ryan from behind, hitting him in the head and kicking and punching his body, Leonard said.
When Ryan fell to the ground near the park fieldhouse, the Morgan Park student joined in the thrashing by kicking Ryan, Lenard told Judge Edward Pietrucha. Eatman, of the 9900 block of South Malta Street, looked on, officials said.
"He admits to watching but denies being involved," Scaduto told Judge Thomas Hennelly.
The teens stole Ryan's cell phone and took off on their bikes, police said. Several people chased after the teens, including Chicago police officer Joe Byrd, officials said. Byrd was off duty when he followed the boys and aided in the capture of the Corliss student. He later identified Eatman in a lineup, Scaduto said.
Hennelly ordered Eatman held on $300,000 bail. His mother and four other relatives attended the hearing. Two of them wept in court, but all declined to comment.
The Morgan Park honor student and basketball player told Pietrucha he has not seen his mother in two weeks or his father in four months. He said he has been staying with friends and is not a ward of the state.
He and the Corliss student remain in custody, officials said.
All three teens are scheduled to reappear in court Monday.
Tomaso, the state's attorney's office supervisor, said additional charges could be brought if new evidence emerges. He said no evidence at this time suggests this was a hate crime.
"It is common for people to use racial epithets in the heat of the moment in a situation like this, but that in itself is not grounds for a hate crime," he said. "There needs to be an intention to single someone out at the commission of the offense."
Judge Hennelly said the Corliss student's statement that Ryan was beaten up because he was a "goofy white kid" was a "side comment" during his interview with authorities and is not proof of motivation.
Tomaso said Eatman's sentence, if he is convicted, would be longer based on the felonies for which he is charged than if he were convicted of a hate crime.
However, Eatman's motivation could be considered at the sentencing stage. If hate were found to be a factor, his sentence could be extended, Tomaso said.
The juvenile court system could not penalize the two minors more harshly if they were charged with a hate crime, Tomaso said.
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