Two Gay Bashing Suspects Plead Guilty, No Jail Time

UPDATE: Victims wanted the plea deal, prosecutor and friends say.

Defendants Kevin Harrigan, Kathryn Knott and Philip Williams

Defendants Kevin Harrigan, Kathryn Knott and Philip Williams

[Update 4:04 pm] Philly Mag’s Bryan Buttler reports:

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams issued a statement this afternoon about the plea deal accepted by Harrigan and Williams.

“Today’s agreement is certainly about justice, but it is also about honoring the wishes of the victims to make sure they can continue to heal and gain closure,” he said. “Defendants Harrigan and Williams have accepted their agreement, one that honors the wishes of the victims of this case, and defendant Knott has chosen to proceed to trial. I hope that all of us can learn and grow from this horrible incident and be inspired by these two courageous victims, the solidarity of the LGBTQ community and their thousands of supporters and advocates.”

Also, Caryn Kunkle, who has become something of a quasi-spokeswoman for the victims, took to Facebook to provide further comment on today’s legal proceedings.

“Reporters and friends, please know that the victims are asking the public to keep in mind two things,” she wrote. “The plea deals were offered by the victims in an effort to kickstart some mercy and education between these diverse communities by setting a peaceful precedent. Two, please keep your speech hate free and stay positive regarding ‪#‎KathrynKnott‬ …legal reform and public support for positive change is the best re-Action we can have.”

[Original 12:10 pm] Two of the three suspects in the September 2014 attack on a gay couple in Philadelphia entered guilty pleas on Thursday morning, bringing their cases to a close after months of plea negotiations. A third suspect indicated she plans to go to trial.

Kevin Harrigan pleaded to one count each of simple assault and conspiracy. Philip Williams pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy and aggravated assault. They had been charged with two counts each of aggravated assault, conspiracy, simple assault, and reckless endangerment. Neither man will spend a day in jail.

The guilty plea was given in exchange for a sentence of probation, with Harrigan to serve three years probation and Williams to serve five. Both men must perform 200 hours of community service at an LGBT center, and they are banned from entering Center City during their probationary period.

But defendant Kathryn Knott turned down a plea deal on Thursday morning, and she intends to go to trial. She pleaded not guilty in 2014 and remains free on bail.

The attack occurred at the intersection of 16th and Chancellor streets in Center City on September 11, 2014. Knott, Harrigan and Williams were coming from dinner with friends at La Viola West when they encountered a gay couple, Zachary Hesse and Andrew Haught, on the street.

At a hearing in December, Hesse gave his account of what happened that night, testifying that the problems began when Harrigan asked him, “Is that your fucking boyfriend?” Hesse said that after Harrigan called him a “dirty fucking faggot,” things got physical.

According to Hesse’s testimony, Harrigan pushed him and he pushed back. Then, he says, he was surrounded, and someone held his arms behind his back. Hesse maintains that Harrigan hit him in the head and that Knott “smacked or hit” him in the head and called him a “fucking faggot.” Williams hit him as well, Hesse said on the stand.

But it was Hesse’s boyfriend who was injured the most. As a result of the attack, Haught was hospitalized with two broken cheekbones. His jaw was wired shut for close to two months.

After the assault, police released surveillance video depicting the attackers. A social media frenzy followed, sending the story and their images viral, and online sleuths helped police track down the suspects. Knott, Harrigan and Williams were arrested on September 24th, eleven days after the attack.

While Harrigan and Williams were said to have caused most of the injuries, Knott was the one who took the brunt of the outrage, thanks to homophobic rants found on her since-deleted Twitter feed.

Given the nature of the attack and the words that were allegedly used during the incident, the case became known as a gay bashing. Some called it a hate crime and pointed out that Pennsylvania does not have a hate crime statute. City Council passed a municipal hate crime bill in the month after the assault. Subsequent attempts to pass a state hate crime bill have stalled.

In April, Common Pleas Court Judge Frank Palumbo quashed a motion to dismiss some or all of the charges against them, allowing the case to proceed to trial.

After a series of continuances requested by the defense teams, some in the gay community expressed concern that the process was taking so long. But Assistant District Attorney Mike Barry told G Philly in September that the case was proceeding as expected.

“The frustrating part of this case is that it isn’t a normal case,” said Barry. “I’m talking to the victims at least two or three times a week. Frankly, all of that takes time. We’re going to do this until we feel completely comfortable with every detail at every level.”