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Three Evanston men found innocent of beating gay man on CTA

Sean Little walks away from Cook County Courthouse Wednesday after being aquitted beating gay man January 2010. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Sean Little walks away from the Cook County Courthouse Wednesday after being aquitted of beating a gay man in January 2010. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 3, 2012 8:57AM

A cell phone photo may have captured the punch of a gay Chicago man by one of three Evanston men accused of beating him on the CTA Red Line because of his sexual orientation.

But a Cook County judge acquitted the three Wednesday, questioning the credibility of Daniel Hauff, the victim who was cross-examined for about seven hours during the trial.

Sean Little, 23, Benjamin Eder, 25, and Kevin McAndrew, 24, were found not guilty of aggravated battery and a hate crime, she said.

“The victim is not to be believed,” Judge Diane Cannon said. “His inability to recall who did what is understandable. His inability to recall what he did the day after this incident is not understandable.”

Hauff, 35, testified during a bench trial last month about what happened to him between 2 and 3 a.m. Jan. 10, 2010, as he rode the northbound CTA Red Line L toward his home.

He said the three men punched and kicked him while calling him a “stupid faggot” after he asked them to stop gay bashing another young man on the train. He replied dozens of times on cross-examination that he couldn’t remember — where he’d been earlier that night, who he spoke with the next day and more.

“We don’t choose our victims and we don’t choose our witnesses,” Assistant State’s Attorney Dan Kirk said during closing arguments. “This picture” he said, holding up the cell phone photo a witness took of Eder punching Hauff, “is a perfect witness.”

The witness who took the photos turned out to be a convicted drug dealer, defense attorneys pointed out. And his testimony was at odds with Hauff’s.

Rows of relatives and friends of Eder, Little and McAndrew cheered and applauded at the verdict, prompting the judge to hush them.

“There is no reason to celebrate any verdict in this building,” she said. “There are no winners, there are no losers.”

All three defendants walked out of the Criminal Courthouse at 26th and California free men. Little and McAndrew left the courthouse without commenting.

Eder’s attorney, Todd Pugh, argued that Hauff’s media blitz and persistence in the weeks after his alleged attack got the case upgraded from simple battery to a hate crime.

“The case never should have been charged as with a hate crime,” he said after the hearing.

Court watchers from Out for Justice, who’d supported Hauff throughout the legal process, were stunned. Elana Mendelson, a spokeswoman forthe lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims’ group, said the aggravated battery seemed obvious from the photo, even if the hate crime was hard to prove.

“There was a picture of Daniel being punched in the face by one of the defendants,” she said. “How is that not evidence enough no matter what the story is?”

Hauff did not attend Wednesday’s hearing but afterward called the verdict disappointing.

“Without video evidence of what happened, there was no way to prove what happened to me,” he said by telephone. “It was important to me that they be tried and have to defend themselves against what they did.”

He now avoids the L, preferring the bus, where, unlike the train, the driver is always visible.

“That was the third incident (in which) I have stood up for someone on a train before,” he said. “I feel you need to stand up for people.”

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