Kentucky

Charges dismissed in alleged attack of gay student

Ashley Sams, second from left, and Corinne Schwab, right, originally were charged with kidnapping and attempted murder.
Ashley Sams, second from left, and Corinne Schwab, right, originally were charged with kidnapping and attempted murder.

A Jackson County teen who claimed three friends kidnapped and threatened to kill her because she is a lesbian probably fabricated the story to cover being late to an appointment, attorneys for the three said.

A judge dismissed charges against two of the teens Thursday. The third was acquitted earlier.

That means the high-profile criminal case is over, four months after it first grabbed nationwide media attention.

District Judge Henria Bailey-Lewis dismissed the charges without prejudice, meaning they could be reinstated.

But it's unlikely that will happen, defense attorneys said.

The day of the alleged attack, Cheyenne Williams, 18, had a job interview but was running late; her mother had been calling and getting no answer, and she was angry, said attorneys for the three teens charged in the case.

Williams later claimed the three had taken her several miles outside town, hit her with sticks, pulled her with a chain around her neck, and threatened to push her off a cliff and crush her head with a rock.

Williams said Corrine Schwab and Ashley Sams, both 18, and a 17-year-old girl attacked her because of her sexual orientation.

It was a lie that got out of hand, defense attorneys said.

"She told the story as a way to get out of trouble, and it snowballed," said Sharon K. Allen Gay, the attorney for Sams and the juvenile.

James Baechtold, who represents Schwab, has asked to charge Williams with perjury.

If the teens want to do that, they will have to ask a grand jury to issue the charge, Jackson County Attorney George T. Hays said.

They haven't decided if they will do so.

"I think their biggest desire is just to put this behind them," Baechtold said.

Williams' mother, Dee Johnson, insisted later Thursday that Williams told the truth about the attack.

Williams has had nightmares about the attack and is in counseling, her mother said.

"She just can't to this day get over what they done to her," Johnson said. "She's just very disappointed in the court system, and so am I."

Williams has faced negative reaction and probably will move with her grandparents to another county, Johnson said.

Johnson said her daughter is considering filing a lawsuit against the other teens because of the mental anguish she has suffered.

Jordan Palmer, founder of the Kentucky Equality Federation, said the board of the lesbian, gay, transsexual and intersex advocacy group will discuss financial support for such a lawsuit.

But Baechtold said if there is another lawsuit, it is more likely to be filed by Schwab, Sams and the juvenile over the alleged defamation they've faced.

Williams, Sams, Schwab and the juvenile, whose name has not been released because of her age at the time of the incident, were seniors together at Jackson County High School when the alleged attack happened.

They'd been friends for years and had been on spring break together not long before the alleged attack.

But Williams said her friends turned on her the afternoon of April 16, taking her to Flat Lick Falls and attacking her.

Williams said she secretly started the video camera on her cell phone so there would be some evidence of the assault.

She testified that she was able to get away after she grabbed a stick from one girl and swung it at her attackers, who backed away.

Johnson, Williams' mother, said the girls made comments on the video about homosexuality being an abomination.

"It was a hate crime," she said.

But Gay and Baechtold have argued throughout the case that Williams was not telling the truth and that no crime occurred.

They said the attack was really a prank, staged to make a video, presumably to post on the Internet.

Williams said in sworn testimony that she didn't laugh throughout the event, but the video shows she did, defense attorneys said.

And state police Detective Joie Peters said there were inconsistencies between Williams' story and other evidence and statements.

Sams, Schwab and the juvenile were charged with kidnapping and attempted murder, based on Williams' sworn statement to Hays, the county attorney.

That was before Peters began his investigation.

Gay said it is problematic that someone can be charged with a serious felony based on such a private party complaint, without a police investigation.

Baechtold said he thinks Williams misled Hays.

"If we've learned anything, I think we've learned that bad things can happen to very good people over little or nothing," Baechtold said.

Bailey-Lewis had reduced the charges against the three to fourth-degree assault and menacing before trials scheduled this week.

On Monday, the judge acquitted the juvenile after hearing only the prosecution; the defense did not have to present its case.

Based on that, Hays made a motion Thursday to dismiss charges against Sams and Schwab, saying there was not enough evidence against them to avoid a similar acquittal.

Afterward, Schwab, Sams and their mothers said they were glad to get the charges behind them.

"It's always in the back of your head that I have to go to court," Schwab said.

The case was hard for the families, who spent several thousand dollars to fight the charges.

"It hurt terribly to walk away and see her in that orange jumpsuit" after Schwab was jailed, said her mother, Lisa Ingram.

These days, Schwab and Sams are trying to put the case behind them. Both are working at restaurants. Schwab is due to start classes at Eastern Kentucky University next week, and Sams has signed up for an online college class.

They said most people in the county supported them. But the charges obviously put them in a bad light, and they received negative e-mails, the two said.

Even with the charges dismissed, some people will still think the teens did something wrong, their attorneys said.

The two will seek to have the charges wiped from their records. But there's no way to expunge the wave of news stories and Internet posts, Gay said.

"There's not a winner in this type of case," Baechtold said. "You have a friendship that's destroyed. You have time that can't be given back to the three people that got charged."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader

  Comments