LONDON, Ky. — The federal trial of two men charged in an anti-gay hate crime in Harlan County, Ky., got underway in U.S. District Court Wednesday, the first federal application of the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act for charges relating to the victim’s sexual orientation.
Booking Photos courtesy Laurel County, Ky. Sheriff’s Department
In testimony Wednesday morning, Mable Ashley Jenkins, sister of Anthony Ray Jenkins and a cousin of David Jason Jenkins, told the court that the two men targeted their victim, Kevin Pennington “because he would be an easy target because he was gay.”
In his opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Hydee Hawkins said the Jenkins cousins had attacked a friend of the victim in 2009 and then “had decided to attack Pennington last year over that unfinished business.”
According to the indictment documents, 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 the victim 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.
FBI Special Agent Anthony M. Sankey stated in an affidavit that the women allegedly cheered on the attack, yelling “kill that faggot.”
Pennington said he was able to escape during a lull in the attack, and hid in the woods until the four stopped looking for him. Pennington suffered numerous injuries, including bruises over much of his body, a torn ligament in his shoulder, a closed-head injury and a torn ear.
Anthony Jenkins’ wife, Alexis Leann Combs Jenkins, testified that she took part in the plan to lure Pennington into Anthony Jenkins’ pickup truck with a false story that she wanted Pennington to buy drugs for her.
“The real plan was to take him to a remote area of Kingdom Come State Park and attack him,” she said. “They was going to take him up on the park and beat him to death … then dispose of the body.”
Defense attorney Willis Coffey, who represents Anthony Jenkins, in his opening argument acknowledged that there was an altercation involving the two men and Pennington, but denied that the incident was based on the victim’s sexual orientation.
According to Coffey, the victim went with the Jenkins’ to purchase drugs, but Jason Jenkins was concerned that the person Pennington planned to deal with was a police informant.
“[Anthony] Jenkins was drunk and high; he and Pennington argued, and it escalated,” Coffey said. “There was simply an argument that led to a fight because Jason Jenkins was out of his head.”
Coffey also challenged Ashley Jenkins’ account of the incident, claiming that she has told inconsistent stories in the case.
Mable and Alexis Jenkins previously entered guilty pleas in exchange for a lighter sentencing deal with prosecutors. Coffey suggested that Mable Jenkins lied about the alleged plan to attack Pennington because of his sexual orientation so she could get the best deal she could.
The Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed in 2009 by President Barack Obama, makes it illegal to attack someone based on the victim’s real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.