Kentucky men face first-of-their-kind federal hate-crime charges

bestep@herald-leader.comApril 12, 2012 

Two Eastern Kentucky men are the first in the nation to be charged under the section of the federal hate-crimes law that makes it illegal to attack people based on their sexual orientation, said U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey.

Two cousins targeted a gay Letcher County man for a vicious assault because of his sexual orientation, a federal grand jury has charged.

The grand jury indicted cousins David Jason Jenkins, 37, of Cumberland and Anthony Ray Jenkins, 20, of Partridge on charges of conspiracy, kidnapping and committing an act of violence based on the victim's sexual orientation.

They face a possible life sentence if convicted.

The two are charged in the beating of Kevin Pennington during a late-night attack in April 2011 at Kingdom Come State Park, near Cumberland.

Anthony Jenkins' wife, Alexis Leeann Jenkins, and his sister, Mable Ashley Jenkins, both 19, allegedly urged on the attack, yelling "kill that faggot," according to a court document.

Pennington, 28, said he was able to run away during a brief lull in the attack. He hid in the woods until the four stopped looking for him, then made his way to the ranger station to call for help.

Pennington said he suffered various injuries, including bruises over much of his body, a torn ligament in his shoulder, a closed-head injury and a torn ear.

In a telephone call recorded at the Harlan County jail after the four were arrested, David Jason Jenkins told his ex-wife that Anthony Jenkins didn't like Pennington because he was gay, according to an affidavit from an FBI agent.

Pennington told the Herald-Leader there also had been some friction because he had rejected advances from David Jason Jenkins and, soon before the attack, from Mable Ashley Jenkins, who goes by Ashley.

According to the indictment, David Jason Jenkins, who goes by Jason, and Anthony Jenkins came up with a plan to assault Pennington because he was gay.

They had Alexis and Ashley Jenkins lure Pennington from his home with the promise to take him somewhere to get Suboxone, a much-abused pain drug, according to the indictment.

Court documents said the two men dressed in hooded shirts or jackets they thought would conceal their identities, and they disabled the interior light in Anthony Jenkins' extended-cab Chevrolet Silverado pickup so Pennington wouldn't be able to recognize them when he got in the back seat with the women.

Pennington said he'd seen the two men attack a friend of his in 2009 and wouldn't have gotten in the truck if he had known they were inside, according to a court document.

Pennington said once he realized who the men were, on the way to the state park, he asked them to let him out of the truck, but they refused.

The two men allegedly dragged Pennington from the truck at a secluded part of the park and punched, kicked and stomped him.

Jason, Anthony, Alexis and Ashley Jenkins were charged first in Harlan County in the attack, but the FBI filed a complaint last month charging the four with taking part in kidnapping Pennington.

The new indictment, returned Wednesday evening, added more charges against Jason and Anthony Jenkins. However, Alexis and Ashley Jenkins were not charged in the indictment.

Jordan Palmer, president of the Kentucky Equality Federation, said Thursday he was pleased to see a hate-crime charge filed in the case.

"We do believe that a hate crime occurred," Palmer said.

The federation, which advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, had asked the U.S. Department of Justice to take the case.

Harvey said he has made enforcement of civil-rights laws, including the law on hate crimes, a priority since he took over as the top federal prosecutor for Central and Eastern Kentucky in May 2010.

The U.S. Attorney's Office has since conducted training for state and local police and prosecutors on federal civil-rights laws, and met with community groups to raise awareness. Harvey also has designated a unit in the office to focus on civil-rights enforcement.

Harvey said he could not comment on specifics of the case from Harlan County, but said "it certainly is the kind of case that will be a priority for us."

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1.

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