February 08, 2016

Kathryn Knott gets 5-10 months in prison in gay-bashing case

Kathryn Knott was sentenced Monday to 5-10 months in prison for her role in the 2014 beating of a homosexual couple in Center City.

Common Pleas Court Judge Roxanne Covington also handed Knott two years of probation and a $2,000 fine during an afternoon sentencing that concluded a 17-month justice process for the victims, Andrew Haught and Zachary Hesse.

Knott, 25, of Upper Southampton, Bucks County, broke down in tears as Covington delivered the sentence. Her parents consoled Knott and hugged her after the sentence was read, and the victims quickly exited the courtroom.

She was taken into custody immediately after the hearing.

Knott also was ordered by the judge to attend anger management classes, keep out of Philadelphia County during her probation and stay away from the victims.

In issuing her sentence, Covington said she considered the homophobic slurs used by Knott and others in her group to be hate speech, even if Pennsylvania law does not recognize it as such. 

She also said she'd struggled to understand how Knott, who worked in the health care industry, could leave ailing victims on the street. Knott was among a group of 15 people who walked to a bar immediately after the beatings. None of them dialed 911 or attempted to assist the victims.

"The entire group walked away from this," Covington said. "Until those faces appeared on the news no one responded – and did so only to save themselves from prosecution."

Before the sentence was announced, Knott read a statement apologizing to the victims.

"I am so sorry to what happened to you both on the night of Sept. 11, 2014," Knott said. "I ask you now for your forgiveness and I hope that you some day will be able to provide it. ... Again, I apologize to you and your families. I wish you nothing but the best."

Knott was found guilty Dec. 18 on charges of simple assault, conspiracy and two counts of reckless endangerment. She was exonerated of two counts of felony aggravated assault charges and four related misdemeanors.

Haught also addressed the court on Monday afternoon, saying the one thing he has been unable to process is that all 15 people left him unconscious on the street.

"Not one of them even called for help," Haught told the court. "I will never forget that everyone in that group, including Kathryn Knott, left me in the alleyway to die."

Sentencing guidelines called for probation, but each of the four misdemeanor counts against her carried a maximum two-year prison sentence. As a first-time offender it was thought that Knott was unlikely to receive any jail time.

Assistant District Attorney Mike Barry recommended to the court that Knott receive 9-23 months in prison, saying imprisonment was the only appropriate penalty, given the injuries sustained by the victims and the damage done to the city's reputation.

Knott's defense attorney, Louis Busico, asked Covington to give Knott probation, saying the criticism she received in the media accounted to additional penalties.

Busico said Knott was "excoriated locally, regionally and nationally" – all before her day in court.

"There's an indelible taint that will never be removed," Busico told the courtroom. "It will also limit her in terms of her profession and her ability to interact in society forever. ... There has been punishment, maybe not in the traditional sense, but in a way that is scarier and far more permanent."

'SHE REFUSED THAT'

Knott's co-defendants, Kevin Harrigan and Philip Williams, each accepted plea deals that included probation, 200 hours of community service at an LGBT Center and a ban on entering Center City during their probationary period.

Knott was offered the same deal as Harrigan, which included three years of probation, Barry said. But she opted to face trial and ended up with the most severe punishment.

"Obviously, the two individuals who were more culpable in this event – the individuals who caused the injuries – were given a sentence of probation," Busico said outside the Justice Center. "I can't speak for why the Commonwealth sought fit to do that. I only know what we all know – that's what they chose to do."

Barry said Harrigan and Williams received sentences that avoided jail time because they admitted guilt. Prosecutors offered plea deals to each of the defendants so the victims could avoid the trauma of a trial and receive an acknowledgment of guilt, he said. 

"None of that was done by Miss Knott," Barry said after the hearing. "She refused that. That's why she finds herself where she is right now." 

The trio of defendants was part of a large group of friends that encountered the couple at 16th and Chancellor streets on Sept. 11, 2014 after eating dinner at La Viola, a nearby Italian restaurant. Haught and Hesse, both of Philadelphia, were walking to get pizza.

Witnesses testified that Knott struck Hesse, who suffered minor facial bruises, and shouted homophobic slurs during an altercation initiated by Harrigan. Williams later knocked Haught unconscious. He suffered broken cheekbones and a jaw that needed to be wired shut for eight weeks.

No testimony indicated that Knott struck Haught. The jury exonerated Knott of aggravated and simple assault against Haught, as well as three of four conspiracy charges brought against her.

After the violent attack, Knott's group left Haught bleeding on the side of the street and headed to Tir Na Nog, an Irish pub, for drinks.

"The most compelling thing is how they walked away," Barry told reporters. "Video that was shown at the trial shows them walking away, talking, laughing (and) hanging out as if nothing had happened at all. If you looked at that video you would never know they had just left a man bleeding with a broken face bone."

'SHE'S ALIVE AND WELL'

In his sentencing recommendation, Barry insisted Knott had yet to grasp that she was responsible for her situation. Her testimony regarding posts to her Twitter account failed to recognize that comparing a bad hair day to the appearance of a "dyke" is hurtful, he said.

"That's how far this disconnect is," Barry told Covington. "It's concerning."

Busico painted a different picture of Knott, telling of the way she cared for a disabled friend and reading a letter from a homosexual friend who praised her character. No one wants to talk about that side of Knott, Busico said. 

"But I'm here to tell you that that Kathryn Knott exists and that she's alive and well," Busico said in court. 

The gay bashing attracted widespread media coverage as police sought to identify the responsible individuals, caught on surveillance videos as they walked to and from the incident. Reporters scrutinized her Twitter feed, including a Tweet in which Knott wrote "ew" after seeing a homosexual couple dancing and making out.

The media attention persisted through Knott's trial and sentencing.

"I don't want to speculate whether or not the press did or did not in any way contribute to what happened in court today," Busico said. "But stating the obvious, this was a high-profile, notorious case."

Barry said the scrutiny directed toward Knott was a product of her words and actions.

"It all became relevant when she committed this crime," Barry said. "I don't wish to see anyone suffer any more than they need to for the punishment for their crime. But at the same time, that attention was drawn to her because she called people some offensive slurs and then punched Zach Hesse and walked away from it."