Federal Jury In Kentucky Begins Deliberations In Hate Crimes Case Filed Under Shepard-Byrd Act
LONDON, KY -- Jurors began deliberations in the case of two men charged in a federal hate-crimes case Wednesday. U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove gave the jurors their instructions late Wednesday afternoon after prosecution and defense attorneys finished their closing arguments.
Jason Jenkins and Anthony Jenkins, who are first cousins, are on trial in U.S. District Court in London on charges that they assaulted Kevin Pennington because Pennington is openly gay. The two are charged with conspiracy, kidnapping Pennington, and injuring him because of his sexual orientation. The trial is the first in the nation under a section of the federal hate-crimes law that makes it illegal to attack someone based on the victim's real or perceived sexual orientation.
Both men face prison sentences of up to life in prison if convicted.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hydee Hawkins, during his closing argument, reminded jurors that several witnesses, including Anthony Jenkins' sister, Ashley, and his wife, Alexis, has testified that the victim had been targeted specifically due to his sexual orientation.
The two women had made separate guilty pleas in the case last spring to aiding in the attack in exchange for more lenient sentences.
The incident began when the two men, accompanied by Anthony Jenkins' 19-year-old wife, Alexis Leann Combs Jenkins of Partridge, and his sister, Mable Ashley Jenkins, 19, took the victim against his will into Kingdom Come State Park near Cumberland in Harlan County on April 4, 2011, and severely beat him while yelling slurs about his sexual orientation.
During his testimony, Pennington said he was able to escape during a lull in the attack, when the two men stopped beating him in order to look for a tire iron with which to kill him. He told the court that he had hid in the woods until the four stopped looking for him. Pennington suffered numerous injuries, including bruises over much of his body, a torn ligament in his shoulder, a closed-head injury and a torn ear.
Co-prosecutor, Assistant U. S. Attorney Angie Cha told jurors;
"They brutally assaulted Kevin because he is, in their words, a ... faggot."
The prosecutors did acknowledge that Pennington had first concealed the reason he went with the Jenkins family members — which was to buy drugs — in his initial statements to the FBI, but his account of the crime had been consistent afterwards.
Defence attorneys argued that the government's case was therefore built on lies telling jurors that the assault stemmed from drug and alcohol abuse and an aborted drug deal, not Pennington's sexual orientation.
According to Andrew Stephens, who represents Jason Jenkins, his client got mad because the drug dealer Pennington planned to take them to was rumored to be a police informant. Stephens told the jury that The group ended up not going to the man's house to buy a pill, and Jenkins, angry that Pennington might have put them in danger of getting arrested, went "redneck."
"So all of a sudden, nobody's going to get stoned now, and they lost control," he said.
Anthony Jenkins' attorney, Willis Coffey, said Ashley and Alexis Jenkins and Pennington lied in their testimony. The women told a number of people in the months after the attack that it was motivated by drugs, but they changed their stories after learning they could face long federal prison sentences, Coffey said.
Coffey also noted that Ashley and Alexis Jenkins said they are bisexual, and that Jason Jenkins had wanted to have sex with Pennington at one point, and that Anthony Jenkins didn't get mad when Pennington offered him drugs to have sex with him. The theory that the two men attacked Pennington because he is gay doesn't make sense, Coffey said.
"This turned out to be the most sexually tolerant group that I've ever heard of," Coffey told jurors.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hydee Hawkins asked jurors to consider that if the attack stemmed from a drug deal gone sour, why on earth would it have been necessary in the first place to lie to the victim to get him to get into the truck in the first place.
Deliberations by the jury towards reaching a verdict will continue Thursday.