Beating of gay Kentucky man motivated by sexual orientation, relative testifies

Lexington Herald-LeaderOctober 17, 2012 

— In the first trial of its kind in the nation, a gay man testified Wednesday that two men yelled slurs about his sexual orientation as they punched and kicked him during an vicious attack in Harlan County.

Kevin Pennington, 29, said Jason and Anthony Jenkins took him to a dark, isolated road in mountainous Kingdom Come State Park and assaulted him one night in April 2011.

"You're gonna die, you ... faggot! You deserve this!" Pennington said the two yelled as they hit him.

Defense attorneys did not cross-examine Pennington Wednesday, but described Pennington as a drug dealer and said he lied early in the case by not disclosing that a planned drug deal preceded the attack.

"Mr. Pennington does not come to this with clean hands," Andrew Stephens, who represents Jason Jenkins, told jurors.

Jason and Anthony Jenkins, who are cousins, are charged with conspiring to kidnap Pennington, with kidnapping him, and with injuring him because he is gay.

The charges were 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, according to U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey.

The Jenkins cousins could receive life in prison if convicted.

One key issue in the trial, which got under way Wednesday, is whether the attack on Pennington was motivated by anti-gay bias.

"This case is about the two defendants . . . planning and trying to kill Kevin Pennington because Kevin Pennington is gay," Assistant U.S. Attorney Hydee Hawkins told jurors.

The Jenkins cousins attacked Pennington's boyfriend in 2009, but he and Pennington got away, prosecutors said in a court document.

Jason Jenkins decided to attack Pennington last year over that "unfinished business," Hawkins told jurors Wednesday.

Stephens and Willis G. Coffey, who represents Anthony Jenkins, acknowledged Pennington was beaten up last year, but said the attack was not because of his sexual orientation.

Coffey said Pennington had agreed to buy a dose of Suboxone for Ashley Jenkins, who is Anthony's sister. Suboxone is used to treat drug dependency, but can also be abused to get high.

However, Jason Jenkins, who was very drunk and abusing drugs, was worried that Pennington's source was a police informant, and the two argued, Coffey said.

"There was simply an argument that led to a fight because Jason was out of his head," Coffey said.

The crippling level of drug abuse in Eastern Kentucky is a subtext in the trial. Everyone involved had a drug problem except Anthony Jenkins.

Ashley Jenkins and Alexis Jenkins, Anthony Jenkins' wife, also were charged in the case.

Both pleaded guilty to aiding in the attack on Pennington, but have not been sentenced.

Ashley Jenkins testified Wednesday that she had bought Suboxone from Pennington many times before April 2011.

Jason and Anthony Jenkins came up with a plan for her ask Pennington to go to Cumberland with her and help her get the drug, Ashley Jenkins testified.

The real goal was to lure Pennington into Anthony Jenkins' pickup truck, she said.

Jason and Anthony Jenkins wore hooded clothes to hide their faces, turned off the dome light in the truck and looked away from Pennington as he approached, she testified.

"They was going to take him up on the park and beat him to death" and dispose of his body, Ashley Jenkins said of her brother and cousin.

On the way, Alexis Jenkins mistakenly turned on the interior light, and Pennington, in the back seat of the extended-cab pickup, saw Jason and Anthony Jenkins up front.

Pennington could not get out of the back seat unless the front door was opened.

Pennington began asking to get out, but Jason Jenkins instead threatened to rape him, both Ashley Jenkins and Pennington testified.

Jenkins said Pennington begged her not to let the others hurt him, but they dragged him out of the truck and punched and kicked him repeatedly while all four of them yelled anti-gay slurs.

Defense attorneys challenged Ashley Jenkins' truthfulness, saying she has given conflicting statements, and suggested she crafted her story to try to get a lower sentence.

Coffey noted she had earlier told at least nine people that the attack was motivated by drugs, not Pennington's sexual orientation.

Jenkins acknowledged she wants to try to get a lower sentence, but said she told the truth on the witness stand.

Pennington, a slight, soft-spoken man, became emotional as he described the attack on the cold, rainy night.

He curled into a ball on the road as Jason and Anthony Jenkins hit and kicked him, Pennington said.

"I was screaming at the top of my lungs, 'Please stop!' " and apologizing for whatever he'd done to make them mad, Pennington said.

He said he saw flashes of light as his head kept hitting the pavement, and then he blacked out.

When he came to, the others were looking for a tire iron in the truck to continue beating him, Pennington said.

Fearing for his life, he ran and jumped over the side of the mountain near the road, landing several feet down, Pennington said.

He hid behind a rock until his attackers stopped looking for him, then, after they left, limped to the ranger station and broke a window to get access to a phone to call for help, he said.

Pennington said he initially did not tell authorities of the drug buy he had arranged before the attack because he was concerned that would detract from the real reason for the assault — his sexual orientation.

Defense attorneys are scheduled to cross-examine Pennington when the trial resumes Thursday.

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