Michaela Jae Rodriguez
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Is Philly Gay-Bashing Defendant Homophobic Thug or Innocent Bystander?

Kathryn Knott

A prosecutor Thursday called Kathryn Knott a closet homophobe and an active participant in an attack on two gay men in Philadelphia, while Knott’s attorney said she was merely a bystander at the scene of the crime.

The prosecutor and the defense attorney offered those messages in their opening statements as Knott’s trial began in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court. Knott, 25, of nearby Bucks County, Pa., is charged with aggravated assault and conspiracy in the attack; her two codefendants have both accepted agreements in which they pleaded guilty to assault and conspiracy, but she refused to accept a deal.

Gay couple Zachary Hesse and Andrew Haught were walking in Philadelphia’s Center City neighborhood the night of September 11, 2014, when they encountered a group of 12 to 15 people, mostly from Bucks County, who had just left a birthday dinner at a restaurant in the area. Words were exchanged, including an antigay slur from a member of the Bucks County group, according to the victims. Then the confrontation turned physical; Hesse and Haught were punched several times, knocked to the ground, and bruised. Haught was the more seriously injured of the two, with fractures to his jaw and an eye socket.

Assistant District Attorney Allison Ruth told jurors this morning that Knott was actively involved in the attack, and that the evidence will prove that, Philly newspaper The Inquirer reports. Knott was “screaming and throwing punches” while being cheered on by her friends because “a girl was hitting a guy,” Ruth said.

Louis R. Busico, the lawyer representing Knott, countered that there is no evidence that she hit either man, and said “all hell broke loose” because one of the gay men hit another woman in the group. He said Knott should not be held responsible for the acts of others. “Being present while some other people commit a crime is not a crime,” he said.

Knott’s social media history may play a part in the trial, as a judge ruled last month that antigay remarks she made on Twitter were admissible as evidence. Among these remarks are “jazz flute is for little fairy boys” and “this camo song is gay like all the other brad paisley songs.”

In court today, Ruth said Knott’s homophobia manifested itself in her tweets, while Busico said his client is a “wonderful human being” who has overcome such attitudes, The Inquirer reports.

Knott, the daughter of a police chief in Bucks County, also got in trouble for her Twitter usage when she was an emergency room technician at Lansdale Hospital and patient data showed up in her public posts. That led to her firing.

Testimony in Knott’s trial is expected to last five to seven days, according to the Associated Press. 

The others charged in the Center City attack entered guilty pleas in October in exchange for not having to serve jail time. Philip Williams, 24, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and conspiracy, while 26-year-old Kevin Harrigan pleaded guilty to simple assault and conspiracy. They each received probation, along with and orders to pay restitution and perform community service at LGBT organizations. During their probation, they will not be allowed to enter the Center City area.

Pennsylvania hate-crimes law does not cover crimes motivated by the victim's sexual orientation, so none of the accused have faced hate-crimes charges. There have been efforts, so far unsuccessful, to expand the state law; after the attack, the city of Philadelphia adopted an LGBT-inclusive hate-crimes law.

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