Mixed verdict in gay-bash trial

Kathryn Knott was convicted of four misdemeanor charges in an attack on two gay men last year, but was acquitted of more serious, felony offenses.

A PHILADELPHIA JURY on Friday convicted Kathryn Knott of four misdemeanor counts, but acquitted her of felony charges of aggravated assault in an attack on a gay couple in Center City last year.

Knott, 25, bit her lips when the jury forewoman announced the guilty verdicts against her for one count each of simple assault and conspiracy to commit simple assault and two counts of reckless endangerment.

Afterward, Knott sat at the defense table and wiped away tears with a tissue before getting up. She and her parents tearfully embraced in the courtroom gallery.

Knott, of Southampton, Bucks County, whose father, Karl Knott, is the police chief in Chalfont Borough, was accused of punching one of the gay men and yelling antigay slurs.

She did not speak with reporters afterward. Her father shook his head when asked if either of them wanted to comment.

Three jurors spoke outside the courthouse. They all expressed sympathy for the victims - Zachary Hesse, 29, and his boyfriend, Andrew Haught, 28.

Joan Bellinger, 67, the forewoman, said the jurors all believed Knott punched Hesse and yelled antigay slurs.

But she said jurors had to compromise on certain things.

Another juror, Aristeo Duenas, 33, of Brewerytown, said: "The conspiracy was what was tripping us up."

He and juror Gina Cook, 36, of Roxborough, said jurors had to examine what the law said on the various charges Knott faced.

"If the decisions went the way that I wanted them to go, she would have been guilty on everything, but when you read the actual law," and apply it to what happened, it can be different, said Duenas, a public-school teacher.

He said he had to concede to other jurors on the aggravated-assault charges.

Tweets that Knott posted on her Twitter account in 2012 and 2013 became part of the trial, with prosecutors contending they showed Knott had an animosity toward gay people.

In one tweet, after Knott saw two men kissing in a bar, she wrote "#gay #ew."

Knott testified in the trial. She said her tweets were not meant to be offensive and were taken out of context. She also testified she did not punch anyone or yell any antigay slurs on the night of the assault.

Duenas, asked about Knott's tweets, said: "We were pretty disgusted. It was pretty embarrassing to watch her testify. She was trying to explain away these tweets. . . . She would have become a better character to me if she would have been like, 'You know what, I messed up. I said those things. It was stupid.'"

Cook said: "I think it's so easy for the word 'gay' to be thrown around, and it's dehumanizing. For some people, it's just a way of explaining something 'lesser.'

"It's just horrific. To watch her explain this hate speech, in my eyes, it's saddening, and I hope that whatever sentence she receives that she will have time to think about how hurtful words are."

Knott faces sentencing Feb. 8 before Common Pleas Judge Roxanne Covington.

She could face jail time, but prosecutors Michael Barry and Allison Ruth would not say if they would seek jail for her. Two other defendants got probation under plea deals.

The victims were in the courtroom, but did not comment afterward. Barry, chief of the D.A.'s Central Division Bureau, said "the victims are happy. These two men who went through this have been nothing but gracious."

"They've said repeatedly in many situations that they weren't out for vengeance," Barry said. "They were just out to be recognized that what happened happened, and that they were attacked and they were attacked for who they were. . . . What they want is for Ms. Knott to not claim that she didn't do anything."

Knott was in a group of 15 people walking north on 16th Street at about 10:30 p.m. Sept. 11, 2014. At Chancellor Street, an alley just south of Walnut, her group encountered Hesse and Haught walking on Chancellor.

After a man in Knott's group - Kevin Harrigan - began insulting the couple, Harrigan pushed and punched Hesse.

Hesse was punched multiple times in an ensuing scuffle. The guilty verdicts on simple assault and conspiracy to commit simple assault against Knott were related to the attack on Hesse.

Haught was seriously injured by another man in Knott's group - Philip Williams. He was punched multiple times, and was left bleeding on the ground and initially unconscious. He suffered a broken jawbone and another fracture around his eye. He was hospitalized for five days and had his jaw wired shut for about eight weeks to repair his jawbone.

The jury of eight women and four men began deliberations late Wednesday morning. They reached their verdicts about 11:30 a.m. Friday.

Beside the acquittals on two counts of aggravated assault, the jury also acquitted Knott of simple assault on Haught. They also found she did not conspire to assault Haught or conspire to commit aggravated assault on Hesse.

Defense attorney Louis Busico said afterward: "Overall, the verdict is a good one. . . . Most importantly, she was exonerated completely on all felony charges."

In October, Williams, 25, of Warminster, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and conspiracy; Harrigan, 27, of Warrington, pleaded guilty to simple assault and conspiracy.

Under plea deals, which the victims approved, both Bucks County men were sentenced to probation and community service and were banned from coming to Center City during their probation.

District Attorney Seth Williams said in a statement after the verdicts: "Hate has no place in this great city of ours; not in Center City, not in the Gayborhood and not on one of our neighborhood street corners." He said Knott's actions "were disgusting" and "hurt all of us."

shawj@phillynews.com

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