Gay rights activists are pushing for a tougher state hate-crimes law in response to the death of a gay Rineyville, Ky., man. Activists point to the death of Guinn "Richie" Phillips as evidence of the need for a more stringent hate-crimes law. Josh Cottrell, 22, is charged with murdering and robbing Phillips, whose body was stuffed into a suitcase and dumped in Rough River Lake. Phillips was strangled or suffocated, according to the medical examiner's office. Three of Cottrell's relatives told investigators that Cottrell told them he invited Phillips, 36, to his motel room on June 17 with the intention of killing him because Phillips was gay, according to police records. "Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people in Kentucky, they are saying to themselves, 'There is no difference between him and me. I could be a victim of that kind of crime just as easily as he was,' " said Andrea Hildebran, executive director of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance.
Supporters of strengthening the law say committing a hate crime should be a separate offense and that a crime committed because of hate should carry a tougher sentence. Even in cases of murder, they say, the establishment of a separate offense when the victim is chosen because of race or sexual orientation would send a message that the state will not tolerate having people feel vulnerable. Committing crimes such as intimidation, assault, and vandalism against someone because of their race, religion, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation has been a violation of Kentucky law since 2000. The law, however, does not apply to murder, and it carries only minor sanctions in cases in which it does apply. Currently, Kentucky's law can be used only by a judge at sentencing to refuse motions for early release, so-called shock probation, or to deny parole or bail. It cannot be used to impose a longer sentence or to increase the severity of a charge, and it is not considered an "aggravating factor" that can make a murder charge a capital offense.
Because Cottrell is charged with robbery, the Phillips case qualifies as a capital case. Commonwealth's attorney Kenton Smith has not said whether he will ask for the death penalty. But Smith said he won't make Phillips's sexual orientation a factor in the prosecution of Cottrell. Kentucky state police track reported hate crimes. But Brian Wright, a spokesman for Attorney General Ben Chandler, said no records are kept on how often defendants are charged with violating the hate-crimes statute. In 2000, the most recent year for which records are available, 73 hate crimes were reported to police agencies around the state. Of those reports, 56 of the crimes involved victims who were targeted because
of their race, and nine victims were targeted because of their sexual orientation.