Jury set to deliberate in Center City gay assault case against Bucks woman

 Kathryn Knott, center, leaves court Tuesday. The jury will now decide whether she is guilty in the assault of a gay couple in Center City in 2014. (Kimberly Paynter/NewsWorks)

Kathryn Knott, center, leaves court Tuesday. The jury will now decide whether she is guilty in the assault of a gay couple in Center City in 2014. (Kimberly Paynter/NewsWorks)

Prosecutors say Kathryn Knott carried out a hate crime when she allegedly took part in the assault of a gay couple last year in Center City, an incident portrayed as a homophobic attack.

“She is in that chair because she doesn’t like gay people,” said Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Mike Barry in his closing argument Tuesday.

Upper Southampton resident Knott, 25, is charged with numerous offenses in connection with the violent episode that occurred on Sept. 11, 2014, around 16th and Chancellor streets.

A jury of eight women and four men will soon start deliberating whether the commonwealth’s theory makes sense: that Knott was among those who brutally attacked two men because of their sexual orientation, leaving one of the victims bloodied with a broken jaw and another dazed and stumbling around.

Or was Knott merely a bystander to the violence? That’s what Knott’s attorney, Louis Busico, contended, saying that prosecutors have falsely accused Knott of crimes she didn’t commit.

Two of the men Knott was with that night — Phillip Williams and Kevin Harrigan, who both took plea deals and avoided jail time — were the aggressors, Busico said. In fact, Busico told the jury that Knott has since distanced herself from the two men.

“I don’t know if you’re out there but, Mr. Harrigan, you’re no friend of hers,” said Busico, addressing  those in the courtroom.

Also Tuesday, Busico faced victims Andrew Haught and Zachary Hesse and said, “I don’t know Phil Williams, sir, but I apologize to you on his behalf.”

Knott herself took the stand on Tuesday and said she ran away once Harringon began punching the victims. She told the jury she even pulled on his arm to prevent him from attacking.

Under questioning, Knott, the daughter of a police chief, had to explain tweets from a few years ago in which she describes how her dad let her kick down a door in a raid and, in another one, how her dad issued a ticket to a driver who ran her off the road. Barry also grilled Knott about using the words “dyke” and “gay” in tweets, which Knott argues were not intended to offend anyone.

Witness testimony about Knott’s involvement has varied. Some, including the victims, said she was punching while screaming homophobic slurs. Others, however, said Knott didn’t participate.

The Bucks County group was in Center City celebrating Harrigan’s upcoming birthday with about dozen others. Witnesses said several joined in the assault in some capacity. Prosecutors charged Harrigan, Williams and Knott. 

Both sides pored over disagreements about witness recollection that night.

Some statements witnesses gave police shortly after the assault describe Knott’s dress as mostly black. But she was wearing a white dress that night, a discrepancy Busico played up to the jury.

In response, Barry said some details might be fuzzy because it was such a chaotic scene. Still, he pointed out, multiple witnesses picked Knott’s face from an array of eight young blond women as being one of the perpetrators. And that, he argued, led to the charges against her.

But why would a woman in a nice dress and sandals involve herself in a scuffle with several men, asked Busico.

Barry said Knott’s prior social media activity might supply the jury with some clues.

Prosecutors showed the jury multiple tweets sent by Knott from a few years ago in which she uses hashtags #gay and #dyke and made comments like “the ppl we were just dancing with just turned and made out with each other. #gay #ew.”

Therefore, Barry argued to the jury, Knott’s feelings about the gay community have persisted for some time. Knott “can’t help herself. It’s bubbling right below the surface,” he said.

Busico said that’s merely an attempt to distract the jury from the events that unfolded last September. The tweets, he argues, have been taken out of context and were sent while Knott was a college student, mindless musings that shouldn’t be used as evidence to illustrate a deep-seated bias, he said.

Before his closing remarks, Busico called on seven people to testify to Knott’s “peaceful, nonviolent and law-abiding” disposition. They included a former teacher of Knott’s from Our Lady of Good Counsel School in Southampton and a North Wildwood lifeguard whose children Knott baby-sit.

On cross-examination, prosecutor Barry asked the character witnesses if they were with Knott the night of the attack; none of them were. Furthermore, Barry established that all the witnesses care about Knott and want to keep her out of trouble.

Judge Roxanne Covington will read instructions to the jury Wednesday morning on what constitutes guilt in aggravated assault, simple assault, conspiracy and the other charges Knott is facing.

After the incident, Philadelphia City Council approved a bill expanding the city’s hate crime law to include sexual orientation. It stiffens penalties for additional $2,000 fine and up to an additional 60 days in prison for offenders. It doesn’t apply to Knott, but it will for similar cases in the future.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.