After night in jail, teen testifies against brother, cousin charged in hate crime

bestep@herald-leader.comOctober 23, 2012 

LONDON — One man charged in a federal hate-crime case laughed when he talked about beating up a victim who was gay, the defendant's cousin testified.

Alex Jenkins first refused to testify against his brother and cousin, but after spending a night in jail for contempt of court, he changed his mind and took the witness stand Tuesday.

His first cousin, Jason Jenkins, seemed "kind of cocky" about assaulting the gay man, Alex Jenkins told jurors.

"He seemed glad that he had did it," Jenkins said.

Jason Jenkins and Anthony Jenkins — Alex Jenkins' older brother — are on trial in U.S. District Court in London for allegedly assaulting Kevin Pennington, of Letcher County, because Pennington is gay.

The two are charged with conspiracy, with kidnapping Pennington, and with injuring him because of his sexual orientation.

The trial is the first in the nation under a section of the federal hate-crimes law that makes it illegal to attack someone based on the victim's real or perceived sexual orientation. Jason and Anthony Jenkins could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.

Ashley Jenkins, a sister of Anthony Jenkins, and Alexis Jenkins, his wife, pleaded guilty to aiding in the attack, but have not been sentenced.

Federal prosecutors called Alex Jenkins, 18, to testify about what his brother and cousin told him about the attack on Pennington, 29.

Anthony and Jason Jenkins stayed at times at the same apartment in Cumberland where Alex Jenkins stayed. It was the home of Johnny Jenkins, father of Alex and Anthony.

On Monday, Alex Jenkins cried on the witness stand and would not testify against his brother.

U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove jailed him for refusing the judge's order to testify.

Van Tatenhove said he regretted doing so, but that confinement was the penalty outlined in the law for Alex Jenkins' act of civil contempt.

Tuesday morning, Alex Jenkins said he was ready to testify.

Jason and Anthony Jenkins allegedly took Pennington to a secluded spot in Kingdom Come State Park, near Cumberland, on April 4, 2011, and beat him.

Pennington said he escaped when the two stopped hitting him to look in Anthony Jenkins' pickup truck for a tire tool with which to kill him.

Alex Jenkins said that after the attack, Anthony and Jason Jenkins first said Pennington had ripped them off in a drug deal.

However, that was a lie designed to conceal the real reason from Johnny Jenkins, because he was a friend of Pennington's father, Alex Jenkins testified.

Later, Jason and Anthony Jenkins told him that the real motivation for the attack was Pennington's sexual orientation, Alex Jenkins said.

In response to questions from Anthony Jenkins' attorney, Willis Coffey, Alex Jenkins acknowledged that he had told conflicting stories about what Jason and Anthony Jenkins had told him.

However, he said he was telling the jury the truth.

Defense attorneys say it's clear Pennington was assaulted, but they said other factors, such as drug and alcohol abuse or an aborted drug deal, were the reasons, not Pennington's sexual orientation.

Pennington has acknowledged he thought he was going with the group from his home in Letcher County to Cumberland in order to buy drugs from a man he'd bought from before.

The men shouted anti-gay slurs as they punched and kicked him, Pennington said.

Defense attorneys have portrayed Pennington as a liar and drug dealer, and said Ashley and Alexis Jenkins lied to try to get lesser sentences.

Prosecutors finished their case Tuesday, and defense attorneys began calling witnesses.

Timothy Jenkins, Jason Jenkins' half-brother, said Jason Jenkins came to his home late on the evening of the attack, "out of his head drunk," and asked to stay the night.

When Timothy Jenkins refused, Jason Jenkins staggered as he went back to Anthony Jenkins' pickup truck, the witness said.

That testimony contradicted prosecution witnesses who said Jason Jenkins seemed in full control of his faculties the night of the attack.

Other witnesses testified that Anthony Jenkins has gay and bisexual friends and acquaintances, some of whom he met at church, and had not shown any bias or hatred toward them.

There also has been testimony about Jason Jenkins being gay — though he was married — potentially raising the question of why he would target Pennington.

While on the way to hang out and drink with Pennington, his boyfriend and others at a strip-mine site in 2009, Jason Jenkins said he wanted to have sex with Pennington, willingly or otherwise, said Alex Jenkins, who was in the group.

"He said that he was going to get him some of that or he would take it from him," Jenkins said.

Prosecutors have argued the law does not require them to prove Anthony and Jason Jenkins hated gay people, but rather that they injured Pennington because of his real or perceived sexual orientation.

Ashley and Alexis Jenkins and other witnesses have said that was the reason for the attack.

The jury will likely begin deliberations in the case Wednesday.

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

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