Two Kentucky teens plead guilty to hate crime after targeting gay man

bestep@herald-leader.comApril 13, 2012 

Two Eastern Kentucky women have become the first people in the nation convicted under the federal hate-crimes law of helping assault someone because of the victim's sexual orientation.

Alexis Leeann Jenkins and Mable Ashley Jenkins, who goes by Ashley, pleaded guilty to one charge of kidnapping and one charge of aiding others in causing bodily injury to Kevin Pennington of Letcher County because he is gay.

The convictions are the first in the nation under provisions of the federal law covering crimes of violence motivated by a person's actual or perceived sexual orientation, according to U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey.

The two face possible life sentences.

The circumstances of their pleas, however, could indicate they plan to cooperate with prosecutors in hopes of getting lesser sentences.

The two agreed to be charged by way of a document called an information — as opposed to an indictment, which would require a grand jury to approve the charges — and pleaded guilty the same day the charges were filed.

Their attorneys, Robert Michael Murphy of Lexington and James Hibbard of London, declined comment on whether the women, both 19, will cooperate in prosecuting two others charged in the case.

Both women are to be sentenced in August.

They pleaded guilty earlier in the week, but documents outlining the charges were not made publicly available until Friday. Their plea agreements remain sealed.

Some records list the women as residents of Partridge, in Letcher County, but Harvey's office said the they are from Harlan County.

The charges arise from an April 4, 2011, attack on Pennington, 28, who lives in Partridge and was a friend of Mable Ashley Jenkins.

The others charged in the attack are cousins David Jason Jenkins, 37, of Cumberland, who goes by Jason, and Anthony Ray Jenkins, 20, of Partridge.

Alexis Jenkins is Anthony Jenkins' wife, and Ashley Jenkins is his sister.

According to a federal indictment returned this week, the two men wanted to attack Pennington and got the two women to lure him to go with them, on the promise they would help Pennington buy Suboxone, a pain medication used to treat addiction to opiates. Many people abuse it.

The four took Pennington to a secluded spot at Kingdom Come State Park, and Jason and Anthony Jenkins dragged him out of the pickup and beat him, according to court documents.

The intent was to kill Pennington, according to the indictment.

Alexis and Ashley Jenkins allegedly egged on the attack, yelling "Kill the faggot," according to a court document.

Pennington told the Herald-Leader he was able to escape during a lull in the attack and hid in the woods until the four stopped looking for him.

Jason and Anthony Jenkins are accused of conspiracy, and kidnapping and assaulting Pennington based on his sexual orientation.

The charges are the first of their kind in the nation under the federal hate-crimes law.

Congress broadened the law in 2009 to cover crimes of violence motivated by a person's actual or perceived race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability, according to Harvey's office.

Prosecutors said the attack on Pennington qualified for federal jurisdiction because Jason and Anthony Jenkins used instruments of interstate commerce in committing the alleged crime.

Those instruments were a Chevrolet Silverado truck and U.S. 119, a federal road.

Jason and Anthony Jenkins have pleaded not guilty. They could be sentenced to life if convicted.

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

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