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December 10, 2015

Prosecutor to jury: Knott had history of using homophobic language before alleged assault

Witness: 'There was blood on the streets for a couple days' after beating of gay couple in Center City

Trials Courts
12102015_KathrynKnott Philadelphia Police Department/for PhillyVoice

Kathryn Knott

A Philadelphia man allegedly beaten by a Bucks County woman described to a jury on Thursday the profane and homophobic confrontation that he said took place immediately before the incident turned violent.

Zachary Hesse, 29, testified he and his partner – Andrew Haught, another victim allegedly attacked – were headed to get pizza when they encountered the defendant Kathryn Knott, 25, among a group near 16th and Chancellor streets on Sept. 11, 2014.

Knott, of Upper Southampton, is charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, conspiracy and reckless endangerment for her alleged role in beating the two men. Two others — Philip Williams and Kevin Harrigan — pleaded guilty to their involvement earlier this year.

According to Philadelphia police, Knott, Williams and Harrigan were among a group coming from dinner at La Viola West when they encountered Hesse and Haught.

Hesse testified one member of Knott's group, later identified as Harrigan, called out to the couple, saying, "What is that, your f---ing boyfriend?"

"I turned to him and said, "Yeah, what if it is my f---ing boyfriend?" Hesse said, which led to a Harrigan spewing more homophobic slurs, then some pushing and Hesse getting punched in the face, the witness said.

In her opening argument, Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Allison Ruth described the injuries the two men sustained, including how Haught had his jaw wired shut for eight weeks and how pieces of his broken cheekbones had been "floating" in his face.

Ruth also said the prosecution will present tweets that Knott had posted to her Twitter account demonstrating a history of the defendant using homophobic language before the alleged assault. The prosecution played several short video snippets of incident Thursday.

"These tweets show how she feels about gay people," Ruth said. "She uses these terms in derogatory manners."

Knott's defense attorney, Louis Busico, reminded jurors that the prosecution must prove Knott guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

"Hold them to that burden," Busico said. "I respectfully suggest to you they cannot meet their burden in this case. And here's why – it's all about distracting you."

On his opening statement, Busico told the jury Knott's tweets had been posted years ago and are being taken out of context by the prosecution. He also said being present for a crime is different than committing one.

The video evidence does not include anything being said by Knott or display her throwing any punches, Busico said. Witnesses also will be unable to say they saw Knott hit anyone, he said.

But Hesse testified Thursday that he was stuck once by Knott and that she called him homophobic slurs. Hesse was surprised a woman would join in the alleged attack, he said.

"She was wearing a white dress," Hesse said. "She was screaming f---ing f----t in my face and swinging at me."

Rachel Mondesir, a witness, also testified that she saw a woman wearing a white dress punch a man wearing a blue shirt. The attires fit the descriptions of what Knott and Hesse each were wearing, according to testimony and evidence presented to the jury. 

Mondesir testified that the woman appeared to be acting in defense of another man who had exchanged blows with Hesse. When the woman entered the fray, Mondesir said the crowd reacted with shouts of surprise. 

As the confrontation escalated, Hesse said members of Knott's group allegedly held back his arms while others struck him and repeatedly hurled slurs at him.

Hesse lost sight of Haught amidst the crowd, and when he found him, he said, he saw Haught topple after being hit in the head.

"I thought he was dead," Hesse said. "I ran over to him. I was completely startled by the whole situation."

The alleged attackers, Knott included, headed north on 16th Street as Hesse waited for help with Haught, who Hesse testified had fallen unconscious for several seconds.

Blood was "everywhere," Hesse said. "The cop actually thought someone was shot because there was so much blood."

Haught spent five days in Hahnemann University Hospital due to injuries he suffered, Hesse said. Haught is expected to testify at the trial Friday.

In speaking to the jury, Busico described the incident as a fight among four men of similar age and size that escalated when Haught hit a woman.

"That's when all hell breaks loose," he said.

Prosecutors called two witnesses, including Mondesir, to testify Thursday. Geoff Nagle, the first witness called, was in his third-floor apartment overlooking Chancellor Street when he heard people shouting and the sound of punches.

Nagle testified he observed one man holding another man in a headlock. A few feet away, Nagle said a woman was pointing toward Haught, who brushed her hand away. That's when Nagle said another man "bum-rushed" Haught and began striking him. 

Nagle said he dialed 911 and snapped a photo of the man who charged Haught walking away from the scene among a small group of people. Upon reaching street level, Nagle said he saw Haught bleeding and moaning on the street.

"His face was rather beat up," Nagle testified. "There was blood on the streets for a couple days afterward."

Under cross-examination, Nagle testified he only saw one man punch Haught and could not decipher whether the derogatory remarks and curses he heard came from a male or female voice.

Knott's two 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.