LONDON, KY — After five hours of deliberations, a jury in Kentucky late Wednesday acquitted two men of hate crime charges, while finding them guilty of kidnapping and conspiracy in connection with the attack on a gay man.
Jason Jenkins and Anthony Jenkins, who are cousins, were the first in the nation to face charges under a section of the of the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd hate crimes Prevention Act, the federal law that makes it illegal to assault another person because of the victim’s real or perceived sexual orientation.
The case against the cousins was also test of the law itself, as earlier in the proceedings, U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove had turned away a challenge to the constitutionality of the hate crime law.
In his ruling Van Tatenhove however, did note that Congress used the “full breadth” of its regulatory power to come up with a way to justify federal jurisdiction. His ruling allowed the hate-crime charge to proceed.
Legal analysts agreed that the verdict indicated the jury did not find sufficient evidence to convict the Jenkins of attacking Kevin Pennington because Pennington is gay.
The two men however do face sentences of life in prison on the federal kidnapping convictions. Sentencing is scheduled to be set for for February 21.
The incident began when the two men, accompanied by Anthony Jenkins’ 19-year-old wife, Alexis Leann Combs Jenkins of Partridge, and his sister, Mable Ashley Jenkins, 19, took Pennington against his will into Kingdom Come State Park near Cumberland in Harlan County on April 4, 2011, and severely beat him while yelling slurs about his sexual orientation.
The two women had made separate guilty pleas in the case last spring in exchange for more lenient sentences.
Co-prosecutor, Assistant U. S. Attorney Angie Cha told jurors, “They brutally assaulted Kevin because he is, in their words, a … faggot.”
In a brief statement afterwards, Willis Coffey, defense attorney for Anthony Jenkins, said his client wanted to be acquitted on all three charges.
“He’s happy he wasn’t found guilty of a hate crime, and so am I,” Coffey said.
Coffey also said it’s likely the cousins will appeal.
Courtroom observers noted that Pennington appeared disappointed by the verdict, and left without making a statement.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office was also not immediately available after the verdict for comment.