Three men accused of beating an openly gay man Daniel Hauff on a northbound Red Line El train while yelling anti-gay slurs have been found innocent.
Judge Diane Cannon ruled on Nov. 30 that Sean Little, Kevin McAndrew and Benjamin Eder were not guilty on charges of aggravated battery and felony hate crime.
The case stems from a January 2010 altercation, during which Hauff claimed he was attacked by the three for interrupting anti-gay bullying. Hauff testified that the three turned their attention to him, kicking and punching him while they called him "faggot" and "stupid faggot." Hauff said that he smeared his blood on the defendants and told them he was HIV-positive in order to ward off the attack. The incident made national headlines.
But Hauff's media blitz in the days that followed the alleged attack came to undo his credibility, said Cannon.
"The victim is not to be believed," she told the court. "It was his media campaign and his agenda that struck fear in the community."
Defense attorneys argued that Hauff recalled details when it was convenient for his case but came up short of answers when cross-examined about things damaging to his story. Prosecutors said that Hauff responded to questions with "I don't know" approximately 150 times.
Further, the defense said, testimonies from Hauff and the witness supporting his case, were glaringly inconsistent.
Christopher Davin, the witness who testified to seeing the fight and helping Hauff on the platform afterward, said that the defendants kicked Hauff before he pushed the emergency button and the train operator came. Hauff testified, however, that the train operator had been called before the men kicked him and that she abandoned him in the car when he thought she was leaving to call police.
Adding to doubt, Davin testified that Hauff collapsed onto him after the beating, smearing blood on his white hoodie. Hauff told the court that he not fallen into Davin, and that he did not know how his blood got on Davin's clothing.
"These two witnesses contradict each other, and their stories internally are just silly," said defense attorney Neil Levine.
Defense attorneys said that it was Hauff who started the altercation, injecting himself into a conversation and acting on false belief that the defendants were bullying someone. They said that Hauff pushed the men and then wiped his blood on them as a threat, at which point Benjamin Eder punched him.
The punched was captured on Davin's cell phone camera and republished by several media outlets, including Windy City Times.
Prosecutors said that the defendants' story was at attempt to explain away the damning image of Eder punching Hauff on the train platform. Regardless of what Hauff remembers, said State's Attoney Dan Kirk, none of his actions warranted the beating that landed him in the hospital that night.
"So forgive Mr. Hauff that he is a little bit rattled," Kirk said. "Who wouldn't be a little bit rattled?"
Kirk said that Hauff had been grilled for an unprecedented seven hours on the stand, and that it was unreasonable to expect the victim of a hate crime to remember every detail about the incident. While Kirk admitted there were inconsistencies in details between witnesses, he said that Davin and Hauff were both clear on the major points.
Finally, he said, the fact that Eder punched Hauff's already bloody face proved that Eder was not reacting to Hauff's alleged threat to infect him with HIV, but was instead continuing a fight the defendants started.
"If someone is saying 'I'm HIV-positive,' are you going to run up to them and touch the blood?" Kirk asked.
In the end, Cannon ruled that Hauff's testimony coupled with his media appearances undermined the veracity of his story.
"He is clear on what he wants to be clear on, and that affects his credibility," she said.
Upon hearing the verdict, the families of Eder, Little and McAndrew broke into cheers and tears of joy.
But Cannon told the courtroom to clear out quietly and without celebration.
"There are no winners in this case," she said.
Hauff, who was absent for the conclusion of the trial, could not be reached immediately for comment.