Kentucky

Juvenile acquitted in alleged attack on gay Jackson teen

Cheyenne Williams, 18, victim in alleged attack by three classmates. Photo April 22 in McKee
Cheyenne Williams, 18, victim in alleged attack by three classmates. Photo April 22 in McKee

A judge has acquitted one Jackson County teen charged in an attack on a lesbian classmate, signaling the potential for a similar verdict in the case of two other young women accused in the case.

District Judge Henria Bailey-Lewis acquitted the juvenile at her trial on Monday.

The girl's name has not been released because she was 17 in April, when the alleged crime occurred. Her trial was closed, but her attorney, Sharon K. Allen Gay, said she received permission to release information about the verdict.

The teen and two 18-year-old friends, Corinne Schwab and Ashley Sams, were charged in April with attempted murder and kidnapping in a case involving Cheyenne Williams. The trial for Schwab and Sams, is scheduled for Thursday.

If the prosecutor does not move to dismiss the charges against the two, Gay said, she will, "basically arguing it's a waste of time" to have another trial.

The evidence against Sams and Schwab is the same as that used against the juvenile. The judge acquitted her after hearing only the prosecution's case — before the defense presented any witnesses, said Gay, who represents Sams.

Jordan Palmer, founder of the Kentucky Equality Federation, was not available for comment on Monday's verdict. Palmer has served as spokesman for Williams and her family. The federation is a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex advocacy organization.

In addition, no one returned a phone message left at Williams' home.

Schwab's attorney, James Baechtold, said he would join the motion to dismiss the charges.

The prosecutor, Jackson County Attorney George T. Hays, was not available for comment.

The four girls were seniors at Jackson County High School last school year and had been friends.

But Williams said that on April 16, the other three took her to a rural area of Jackson County, hit her with sticks and threatened to push her over a cliff, then bash in her head with a rock.

Williams, a lesbian, said the girls attacked her because of her sexual orientation.

Her mother, Dee Johnson, called it a hate crime. The case received a great deal of attention because of the allegation.

Williams filed a complaint charging the three other teens with attempted murder and kidnapping. She did that by way of a sworn statement to Hays, before police had investigated.

But attorneys for the three said from the beginning that Williams lied and that the girls did not commit a crime.

The attack was staged — apparently to make a video — with Williams a willing participant, Gay and Baechtold said.

Williams videotaped part of the alleged attack on her cell phone. That tape is a key piece of evidence.

Williams said at an earlier hearing that she did not laugh throughout the attack, but the video confirms she did laugh during the event, according to defense attorneys and police.

State police Detective Joie Peters, who began investigating after the three teens were charged, has testified that Williams' story to him did not match other evidence and statements.

For instance, Hays, the county attorney, said Williams told him she blacked out during the attack, but Williams did not tell Peters that, the detective said.

The judge's ruling on Monday confirms that no crime was committed in the case, Gay said in a news release.

"For the past four months the juvenile has not only faced the false accusations made by Cheyenne Williams, but also the judgment of all those individuals who heard the allegations and presumed the juvenile to be guilty," Gay said. "We are thankful that the criminal justice system still works, and that the truth has come out."

Bailey-Lewis reduced the charges against Sams and Schwab to menacing and fourth-degree assault after an earlier hearing. The juvenile faced the same charges.

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