Friend of men targeted in Center City assault say Knott trial revives pain

 Kathryn Knott is on trial in the 2013 assault of two men in Center City. (AP file photo)

Kathryn Knott is on trial in the 2013 assault of two men in Center City. (AP file photo)

One sometimes-overlooked aspect of a criminal trial is the toll the process takes on victims, who often relive traumatic events by publicly testifying.

The two men who were attacked last year in Center City, presumably because they are gay, have taken the stand in the trial of Kathryn Knott.

As the trial continues this week, one longtime friend of the men said the process is grueling to watch.

“It’s very difficult to have to reopen proverbial wounds again after a year of having some time to heal and rest,” said Caryn Kunkle, longtime friend of one of the victims of the attack, Zachary Hesse. His boyfriend, Andrew Haught, had to have his jaw wired shut as a result of the beating in September 2014.

Louis Busico, defense attorney for defendant Kathryn Knott, has questioned the victims on the stand. Kunkle says there’s a psychological component to that.

“He’s trying to trick him, and come closer to him, so that’s an intimidating thing. Because, you know, as a victim, you associate the aggressor’s lawyer with the aggressor, so even their lawyer coming up close to you, to touch your piece of paper, is a scary thing,” Kunkle said.

Gauging how victims Haught and Hesse are feeling during the trial is difficult because the presiding judge issued a gag order preventing them from talking to the press.

Kunkle, though, said she can’t help but remember being in the hospital shortly after her two friends were brutally assaulted by a group of young adults who were allegedly motivated by homophobia.

“So Zach is telling me, they did this because we’re gay. And the confusion, and the sense of bewilderment in his face. And he starts crying and saying, ‘Girls were hitting me, too,'” Kunkle said.

She and Hesse went to a Christian high school and were raised in a community where religious values and sexual orientation can sometimes clash. But that hasn’t gotten in the way of support, she said.

“They’re not exactly going out and embracing the gay community, neither is the high school that Zach and I went to,” Kunkle said. “But the overwhelming response from our Christian community has been: It’s not OK to be hurt for who you are.”

Knott’s trial continues this week. Two other defendants in the case took plea deals to avoid jail time, but they were put on probation with a mandatory 200 hours of community service at a center for gays and lesbians.

Southampton resident Knott, 25, is charged with aggravated assault, simple assault and conspiracy.

The jury has so far heard from prosecution witnesses who say Knott participated in the attacks. Defense witnesses have countered with testimony that Knott never threw any punches. Both sides  also dispute who started the confrontation.

If convicted, Knott could face years behind bars.

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