Despite Acquittal Department Of Justice Intends To Vigorously Investigate Hate Crimes
LEXINGTON, KY -- In remarks published Thursday, United States Attorney Kerry B. Harvey, the top federal prosecutor for Central and Eastern Kentucky, said that despite a federal jury's acquittal in the first federal trial for people charged with attacking someone because of the victim's sexual orientation, his office will not deter future prosecutions.
The jury convicted the two Harlan County, Kentucky men, Jason Jenkins, 37, and his first cousin, Anthony Jenkins, 20, on federal kidnapping charges and conspiracy charges, exposing them to a maximum of life imprisonment. The jury also acquitted the men of violating the sexual orientation provision of the Matthew Shepard James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
The cousins were convicted on the kidnapping and conspiracy charges for their roles in kidnapping and assaulting 28-year-old Kevin Pennington, a gay man.
The federal jury in London, Kentucky, convicted the defendants for their conduct related to the April 4, 2011 assault of Pennington. Testimony at trial established that the defendants, who are cousins, carried out the crime with help from two other relatives—Mable Ashley Jenkins, 20; and Alexis LeeAnn Jenkins, 19—who both pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting kidnapping and aiding and abetting the hate crime assault against Kevin Pennington prior to trial and testified against the defendants.
Both women pleaded guilty to federal hates crimes charges, representing the first federal convictions under the sexual orientation provision of the Matthew Shepard James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
“As the jury recognized through its verdict, this kidnapping and assault was a vicious and criminal act. The Department of Justice will continue will continue to use every tool in our arsenal to vindicate the rights of victims of violent crimes,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.
“The department will also continue to vigorously investigate hate crimes allegations and support state and local law enforcement in their efforts to identify these crimes.”
Courtroom observers noted that the government's argument for a hate-crime conviction appeared to go awry as jurors heard inconsistent stories from witnesses about the motivation for the crime, as well as testimony that Jason Jenkins had wanted to have sex with Pennington and that two women who aided the attack — Ashley and Alexis Jenkins — acknowledged bisexual affairs.
“We are pleased that all those who participated in this cruel criminal episode have been convicted of serious offenses,” said Harvey.
“We expect that the punishment will reflect the severity of the crimes. Our trial team and law enforcement partners are to be congratulated for their excellent work in this matter.”
Harvey, also said in an interview Thursday that his office and its law-enforcement partners "go where the evidence leads us," adding that if that effort results in additional hate-crime cases, his office will prosecute them.
Attorneys for Jason and Anthony Jenkins argued unsuccessfully before the trial that the hate-crime law was unconstitutional and that the federal government should not have taken jurisdiction.
"There are many things wrong in this country, and this prosecution is one of them," Anthony Jenkins' attorney, Willis Coffey, told jurors.
Coffey said in closing arguments Wednesday that the government didn't prosecute Pennington, who concealed information about his drug involvement from the FBI for months, but did take on a case against a drunk, Jason Jenkins, and against Anthony Jenkins, a "slow kid" with an IQ of 75 that ranked him in the bottom 5-percent in the nation.
Harvey countered that the convictions on two of the three charges against each man vindicated the decision to assume federal prosecution.
"Our over-arching view here is that we are very pleased that all four participants in this sorry episode have been convicted of very serious charges," Harvey said. "Of course we should've taken this case." ~The Kentucky Herald-Leader
Jordan Palmer, president of the Kentucky Equality Federation, an LGBTQ equality rights advocacy group that pushed for a federal takeover of the Pennington case, said justice is still being served even without a hate-crime conviction. "I don't think this is a setback at all," he said. "Tomorrow someone may be arrested for a hate crime that results in a conviction."