Two Kentucky men have been charged with a federal hate crime in a beating attack on a gay man in an Appalachian park, marking the first time the law has been applied in a U.S. case alleging bias over a victim's sexual orientation, authorities said.
The U.S. attorney's office in Lexington announced the charges against cousins David Jason Jenkins, 37, of Cumberland, and Anthony Ray Jenkins, 20, of Partridge. Both were indicted by a federal grand jury earlier this week in connection with the April 2011 attack that left victim Kevin Pennington with chest, head and other injuries.
The grand jury charged the men with violating a hate crime law that was expanded in 2009 to cover assaults motivated by bias against gays, lesbians and transgender people. They also were indicted on federal kidnapping, assault and conspiracy charges.
"The indictment marks the first federal case in the nation charging a violation of the sexual orientation section of the Federal Hate Crimes Law," said a U.S. Department of Justice statement.
"It's vindicating to see that the years of hard work that went into making sure this law was on the books is now being put into place," said Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesman for the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, which pushed for the law's passage.
"The bigger picture here is that the U.S. attorney's office is sending a message that you don't try to hurt someone and you don't injure them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity," said Jordan Palmer, president of the Kentucky Equality Foundation, a civil-rights group that lobbied the Department of Justice to intervene in the case.
David and Anthony Jenkins pleaded not guilty to the charges in federal court in London on Thursday. David Jenkins' lawyer, Andrew Stephens of Lexington, said Jenkins knew Pennington and Jenkins denies that he committed a hate crime.
"The hate crime component of this is just flat wrong," Stephens said. "I think it's very difficult to get into the mind of somebody and figure out what their intent is."
Pennington also suffered injuries to his back, face, neck and ear in the attack at Kingdom Come State Park, a mountaintop park covering more than 1,200 acres of pristine pine-covered wilderness in the mountainous Appalachian region. He was subsequently treated and released from a hospital.
But Pennington remains emotionally scarred from the attack, Palmer said. He spoke with Pennington's mother on Thursday and she was pleased when she heard of the hate crime charges. She had contacted the group just hours after the attack on Pennington, Palmer said.
"I thought it was pretty sick when I heard about it," he said.
An FBI affidavit said Pennington was invited to go on an evening drive with two women he knew, but once he saw David and Anthony Jenkins in the truck, asked to be taken home. Pennington told investigators that David Jenkins demanded a sexual favor from Pennington, which was refused. Then the man said David Jenkins threatened to violently rape him, according to the affidavit.
The truck stopped in the park because a tree had fallen across the road and Anthony and David Jenkins pulled Pennington out of the truck and attacked him. The women in the truck, Alexis Leann Combs Jenkins and Mable Ashley Jenkins, have been charged with kidnapping and aiding a kidnapping, authorities said.
The men pulled Pennington out of their truck, hit him and kicked him while "making anti-homosexual statements," according to the FBI affidavit.
"During the attack (the victim) was covering his face and they were all screaming `how do you like this faggot?'" the affidavit said.
Pennington escaped, ran to a ranger station, broke a window to get inside and called police.
Kerry Harvey, U.S. Attorney for Kentucky's Eastern District, said Thursday that a possible conviction on the hate crime charge could send the two men to prison for life. He said the men used a truck and traveled on a federal highway with the victim, which allowed the case to fall under federal jurisdiction.
The law is known as the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Shephard was a gay college student killed in Wyoming in 1998.
"The law was really meant as a backstop so that the resources of the federal government could be brought to bear when necessary to deal with these kinds of crimes," Cole-Schwartz said.
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