Four Eastern Kentucky relatives sentenced for kidnapping, assaulting gay man

bestep@herald-leader.comJune 19, 2013 

LONDON — In the first case of its kind in the nation, four Eastern Kentucky relatives were sentenced in federal court Wednesday for their role in an attack on a gay Letcher County man in April 2011.

David Jason Jenkins, 39, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for kidnapping and beating Kevin Pennington. Anthony Jenkins, 22, a cousin to Jason Jenkins, was sentenced to 17 years in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove.

Anthony Jenkins' wife, Alexis, and his sister, Ashley, pleaded guilty to aiding in the attack. Van Tatenhove sentenced Alexis Jenkins, 20, to eight years in prison and Ashley Jenkins, 20, to eight years and four months.

The case received nationwide attention because the charges against the four were the first under a part of the federal hate-crimes law that outlaws attacks motivated by the victim's real or perceived sexual orientation.

Alexis and Ashley Jenkins became the first people convicted under that provision when they pleaded guilty last year.

Jason and Anthony Jenkins fought the charges. At a trial last October, jurors convicted the two on conspiracy and kidnapping charges but acquitted them on the hate-crime charge — a setback for the government in the first trial test of the law.

Ashley and Alexis Jenkins testified for prosecutors, which resulted in shorter sentences.

The trial was a depressing litany of details about the crippling level of drug abuse in Eastern Kentucky, dysfunctional families and interactions among straight, gay and bisexual people that juror Chuck Owens called "bizarre."

All the defendants except Anthony Jenkins had serious drug problems; Alexis Jenkins had written poetry about her craving for drugs. The victim, Pennington, was a drug abuser and seller, according to testimony.

Ashley and Alexis Jenkins said they lured Pennington from his mobile home with a bogus request to help them get Suboxone, a drug used to treat addiction that is widely abused in Eastern Kentucky.

In reality, Jason and Anthony Jenkins wanted to beat Pennington because he was gay, the women said.

Pennington said he had seen Jason and Anthony Jenkins attack a gay friend of his earlier, so he wouldn't have gotten into the extended-cab truck if he had known who they were. The men concealed their identities by pulling ball caps low and turning off the dome light in the truck, according to testimony.

Anthony Jenkins drove to a secluded spot on a mountain in Kingdom Come State Park, in Harlan County, where the two men dragged Pennington from the truck and punched, kicked and stomped him.

The two young women spurred them on, yelling anti-gay slurs such as "Kill that faggot," according to testimony.

Pennington said he was able to run into the woods when the men stopped hitting him so they could look for a tire iron in the truck with which to kill him. Pennington hid until the four left, then hobbled to the vacant ranger station in the park, breaking out a window so he could get to a telephone and call 911.

Pennington suffered bruises, a torn ear, a torn ligament in his shoulder, a closed-head injury and a badly injured ankle.

Attorneys for Jason and Anthony Jenkins did not dispute that the two assaulted Pennington, but said the attack was motivated by drug and alcohol abuse and anger over an aborted drug deal, not Pennington's sexual orientation.

Jason Jenkins believed he and the others were on their way to buy drugs, but a concern arose that the seller was a police informant, his attorney, Andrew M. Stephens, said in a court document.

Jenkins, drunk and stoned, "went redneck" after that and attacked Pennington, "and Anthony followed right behind," Stephens said in the motion.

Alexis and Ashley Jenkins testified they were bisexual, and Jason Jenkins, even though he was married, allegedly said he wanted to violently rape Pennington before the attack.

Anthony Jenkins' attorney, Willis Coffey, said earlier that the argument that the four targeted Pennington for being gay made no sense.

Coffey said earlier that Ashley and Alexis Jenkins lied to get lower sentences.

Jason Jenkins received the longest sentence in the case in part because of his lengthy criminal history, which included convictions for a robbery in which he cut someone's neck with a knife and another case in which a woman said he beat her with an aluminum baseball bat and raped her.

Van Tatenhove said Jason Jenkins also drove the conspiracy to attack Pennington.. The judge called Jason Jenkins a violent man from whom the community needs to be protected.

Anthony Jenkins took part in the same terrible conduct, but the fact that he was 19 at the time; his lack of criminal history; his efforts to hold down a job; and his low intelligence were factors in favor of a lower sentence, Van Tatenhove said.

An evaluation showed Anthony Jenkins' IQ is in the 96th percentile, meaning 96 of 100 people would score as high or higher.

Van Tatenhove said Ashley Jenkins bore more responsibility than Alexis Jenkins for what happened to Pennington. Ashley Jenkins was supposedly Pennington's friend, enabling her to lure him from his home.

Van Tatenhove noted that the people charged in the case had difficult lives: dysfunctional families, relative poverty and parents who were drug abusers.

All but Anthony Jenkins — who was raised by an aunt and uncle — started abusing drugs as young teens. Anthony and Ashley Jenkins' mother was murdered, likely in a dispute over drugs, and her body was dumped not far from where the two men beat Pennington.

But difficult lives don't excuse crime, Van Tatenhove said, noting that the law requires people to make good decisions even when it is hard.

"Just societies choose not to live this way, and to hold accountable those who do," Van Tatenhove said.

Pennington left the federal courthouse Wednesday without comment after the sentencing.

U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey, who had spoken briefly with him in the courtroom, said he thought Pennington was satisfied with the sentences.

Harvey said justice had been done.

"The sort of brutality and violence that were inflicted on Kevin Pennington just can't be tolerated, and won't be tolerated," Harvey said.

There is no parole in the federal court system, so the four defendants must serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. It is likely both men will appeal.

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

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