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December 14, 2015

Defense witnesses say Kathryn Knott did not punch anyone in Center City assault

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12142015_kathryn_knott2 Source/Twitter

Kathryn Knott

Four defense witnesses testified Monday that they did not see Kathryn Knott throw any punches on the night that two Philadelphia men were beaten in Center City last year.

Knott, 25, of Upper Southampton, is among a trio of defendants charged in the beatings of Andrew Haught and his partner, Zachary Hesse, as they walked to get pizza in Center City on Sept. 11, 2014. The others — Kevin Harrigan and Philip Williams — pleaded guilty to their involvement earlier this year.

The three friends were part of a group of 15 people who dined at La Viola on South 16th Street earlier in the night before leaving in search of a bar. All four defense witnesses were part of the group that encountered Haught and Hesse at 16th and Chancellor streets. Their testimony differed significantly from that offered by Haught and Hesse last week. 

Knott faces charges of aggravated assault, simple assault, conspiracy and reckless endangerment for her alleged role in the beatings. But none of the four defense witnesses who testified Monday said they saw Knott throw any punches, instead describing her as someone who was on the periphery during much of the incident.

John McCabe testified that he was walking near Harrigan when his group encountered Hesse and Haught at 16th and Chancellor streets. Hesse and Harrigan exchanged words. 

Then, McCabe testified, Hesse took a swing at Harrigan from behind but missed. Hesse then knocked Patrick Conly, another member of the dinner party, to the ground with a push, he said. Scuffling and grappling ensued among about four men, McCabe said, but he said he did not see anyone, including Knott, throw any punches at Hesse.

"I didn't see her do anything," McCabe testified. "She was standing off to the side."

After hearing an argument from behind, Conly testified that he turned and walked toward a group that included Harrigan, Hesse and Haught. He said Hesse stepped forward and pushed him to the ground. 

Conly returned to his feet and got in a "scuffle" with Hesse who, Conly testified, punched him in the head. But Conly testified under cross-examination that the punch was not included in a signed statement he gave to detectives.

Another witness, Taylor Peltzer, testified that she saw Hesse throw Will Morris to the ground. But it was unclear whether she was confused or whether Hesse pushed two men to the ground.

After getting struck, Conly testified that he was separated from Hesse. He said he saw Peltzer near Haught, holding out both her arms in an attempt to separate the two groups. 

Peltzer testified that she was attempting to play peacekeeper while also yelling at Haught that she would help him find his glasses. That's when Haught punched her on the right cheekbone, Peltzer testified, saying she found the reaction "strange."

Peltzer testified that Haught and Williams then fled down Chancellor Street as she stood by the corner, shaken up by the punch. She testified that the punch required dental work, but could not recall specifics about it.

"I was kind of in shock because I just got hit," Peltzer said. 

McCabe testified that he saw Williams knock Haught to the ground with a single punch. Conly also testified to witnessing Williams throw a punch, but said he turned from the scene before Haught fell. Haught sustained broken cheekbones and a fractured upper jaw that needed to be wired shut for eight weeks.

Conly testified that many members of the dinner group stayed on the periphery, afraid of the aggression shown by Haught and Hesse. 

"We're in the middle of the city and we were attacked out of nowhere," Conly said. "It was never 15-on-2."

Video, shot by Elizabeth Foley, depicts Haught asking for his glasses, a woman responding "Who the f--- are you?" and repeated shouts of "Phil" in the moments that allegedly preceded Williams striking Haught. 

Foley testified that she was walking toward the front of the group and did not see how the initial incident began. After she heard yelling, Foley said she turned to see Harrigan and Conly in a scuffle with two men she did not know. She said she did not see Knott hit anyone or shout "f----t," but admitted under cross-examination that she did not see the entire incident.

Foley said she began filming the incident because she became frightened. But neither of her two video clips show the alleged beatings on screen. One shows Knott running toward the location where Williams was beating Haught.

Each of the four defense witnesses repeatedly said they did not witness Knott throw any punches during the incident. But their testimony considerably differs from that given last week by Hesse and Haught. 

Haught and Hesse each said the incident began when Harrigan called out "Is that your f---ing boyfriend?" as the group encountered the couple. More homophobic slurs followed, then some pushing, with Hesse getting hit by several people in the group. 

Hesse testified that Knott shouted homophobic slurs at him and punched him. Two independent witnesses also testified that they saw Knott strike Hesse. Haught testified that he saw Knott swinging at Hesse before he was beaten by Williams. 

Prosecutors pressed each of the four defense witnesses for the reasons they did not contact police until after a news video showed the group of friends walking toward Tir Na Nog, an Irish bar across from LOVE Park, after the incident. Police released the video, which depicted faces, in an attempt to identify the group.

The witnesses testified that no one contacted police on the night of the assault, despite hearing sirens of emergency vehicles responding to the area, nor did anyone return to the scene to speak with police. And no one contacted police after news outlets revealed the extent of Haught's injuries. 

Each of the witnesses – and others from the group who spoke with police – reached out to police via an attorney. 

"We were, on the news, made out to be 15 people ... that brutally beat two men," Conly said. "Every one of us was suspected of committing this crime. ... It looks as though you brutally beat these men and it did not happen."

Peltzer described Haught and Hesse as being "hostile" and "threatening." But despite testifying that she was punched in the face, she said she did not consider calling 911 because she was "petrified." As others drank at Tir Na Nog, Peltzer said she was crying in the bathroom.

"I was in shock," Peltzer testified. "I was upset. I was crying. I was scared. I didn't call 911."

McCabe testified that he talked with Williams as the group walked to Tir Na Nog, discussing what had happened but not asking about the condition of Haught. 

McCabe said he was "just getting out of a violent area." He said he did not think it was a good idea at the time to contact police because Williams had hit someone. 

"I saw him punch the guy," Williams said. "I saw the guy hit the ground. I walked away."

After news outlets aired video of his group walking in Center City, McCabe said he reached out to police because he wanted to describe what had happened.

Earlier Monday, the prosecution rested its case against Kathryn Knott after entering a series of posts from the defendant's Twitter account into evidence.

Assistant District Attorney Mike Barry entered four Tweets – all several years old – into evidence, including one that stated "@krissstenxoxo the ppl we were just dancing with just turned and mafe out with eatch other #gay #ew."

Other Tweets stated "Jazz flute is for little fairy boys," "@go_nads he's gonna rip me today for my hair..just wait. #dyke" and "this camo song is gay like all the other brad paisley songs."

During opening arguments Thursday, Assistant District Attorney Allison Ruth said the Tweets demonstrate Knott had a history of using homophobic language before the alleged attack. Defense attorney Louis Busico said the Tweets taken were out of context and posted several years ago.

The prosecution concluded its testimony Monday morning with Philadelphia police Det. Ralph Domenic on the stand. Domenic, whose testimony began Friday, said that police interviewed both victims and about 17 witnesses, including most of the group that had dined at La Viola with Knott, Harrigan and Williams. Each of the witnesses within that group brought lawyers to their interviews.

Domenic also testified that police released surveillance video from a Republic Bank branch to the media and used it to help identify the suspects in the case.

Knott's co-defendants, Williams and Harrigan, pleaded guilty earlier this year to assault and conspiracy charges. They were sentenced to probation and 200 hours of community service at an LGBT Center.