A federal appeals panel has upheld long prison sentences for two men who kidnapped and beat a gay man in Harlan County, a case that resulted in the first hate-crime charges in the nation related to sexual orientation.
A federal court jury convicted Jason Jenkins and his cousin, Anthony Jenkins, on kidnapping and conspiracy charges from the April 2011 attack on Kevin Pennington on a dark mountain road.
The jury acquitted the two on the hate-crime charge, however.
U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove sentenced Jason Jenkins, who is now 40, to 30 years in prison and Anthony Jenkins, who is now 23, to 17 years.
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Jason Jenkins' sentence was much longer because he had criminal convictions and was judged more culpable in the attack.
Attorneys for the two appealed, arguing that Van Tatenhove erred in calculating the sentence.
However, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, saying Van Tatenhove had explained the reasoning for his sentencing decisions in "a thoughtful and measured opinion of remarkable judicial eloquence."
Both men are serving their sentences at prisons in West Virginia.
The case received nationwide attention because the charges 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.
Anthony Jenkins' wife, Alexis, and his sister, Ashley, were charged with aiding in the attack. They pleaded guilty and testified against Jason and Anthony Jenkins.
Pennington, who lived in Letcher County, testified that Ashley and Alexis Jenkins tricked him into going with them and the two men by asking him to help them buy some Suboxone, a drug used to treat addiction that was widely abused in Eastern Kentucky.
Jason and Anthony Jenkins wanted to beat up Pennington because he was gay, the two women said.
Anthony Jenkins drove to a secluded spot on a mountain in Kingdom Come State Park, where the two men dragged Pennington from the truck and punched, kicked and stomped him.
The two young women yelled anti-gay slurs during the attack, according to testimony.
Pennington said that when the two men stopped hitting him so they could look for a tire iron to beat him, he escaped by jumping down the slope of the mountain into the woods.
He hid until the four stopped looking for him, then hobbled to the vacant ranger station in the park, breaking a window so he could use a telephone to 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 argued that the attack was motivated not by anti-gay bias but by drug and alcohol abuse and anger over an aborted drug deal.
Jason Jenkins, drunk and on drugs, thought he and the others were on their way to buy drugs and attacked Pennington in a rage when that didn't happen, his trial attorney, Andrew M. Stephens, argued.
Attorneys for the two men also said it made no sense that the four would target Pennington for his sexual orientation.
Ashley and Alexis Jenkins testified that they were bisexual, and Pennington said Jason Jenkins talked of violently raping him just before the beating.
Attorneys for the men said Alexis and Ashley Jenkins lied about the alleged hate motivation for the crime in order to get lower sentences.
The guilty pleas by the two women were the first convictions in the nation under the sexual-orientation section of the hate-crimes law.
Van Tatenhove sentenced Ashley Jenkins to eight years and four months in prison, and Alexis Jenkins to eight years. The women, both now 21, are at a prison in Alabama.
In sentencing Jason and Anthony Jenkins, Van Tatenhove ruled that they had caused serious bodily injury to Pennington; used a dangerous weapon because one of them used steel-toed mining boots to kick Pennington; and that each had obstructed justice by trying to influence the testimony of a witness.
Each of those factors meant a longer sentence for the two.
Their attorneys argued that it was improper for Van Tatenhove to apply those enhancements.
However, the appeals panel said Van Tatenhove's rulings were sound and that the sentences should stand.