Kathryn Knott gets up to 10 months in prison for Center City attack on gay couple

 (Emma Lee/WHYY)

(Emma Lee/WHYY)

A Philadelphia judge has sentenced a Bucks County woman to five to 10 months behind bars with two years of mandatory probation for her part in a 2014 attack on a gay couple in Center City.

“It’s very difficult to unring a bell that’s been rung,” Common Pleas Judge Roxanne Covington told Kathryn Knott.

Covington called the assault on Philadelphians Zachary Hesse and Andrew Haught “a violation of human rights,” as she announced the sentence Monday afternoon

Haught read a brief statement to the court, saying the thing that has stuck with him more than anything else is how the group “left me in the alleyway to die.”

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“Not one of them looked the least bit disturbed,” Haught said.

The case has left an indelible mark on the city of Philadelphia, prosecutors told the judge.

“People throughout the country may not even know that Ms. Knott wasn’t from Philadelphia, and was just visiting,” Assistant District Attorney Mike Barry said after the sentencing. “All they hear is that two men were viciously beaten because they were gay in Philadelphia.”

Some time behind bars is “the only appropriate sentence,” Barry said. 

In addition to the months Knott will spend behind bars, she will also be on probation and banned from being in Philadelphia, unless approved by the court. She was also ordered to pay a $2,000 fine and take anger-management classes.

In remarks before reading the sentence, Covington said she was appalled that the perpetrators all walked away from the scene and none came forward in the days after the attack.

“None of the defendants would have been here if others didn’t rat on you,” Covington said. 

As the judge read the sentence, Knott started to cry hysterically. Her mother ran up to her but was stopped by court officers.

The two hugged over a divider before Knott was taken immediately into custody.

Neither Knott’s parents, nor her attorney, had an immediate comment.

Knott read a prepared statement to the victims, looking at the two, who were seated in the front row of the courtroom, between tearful and halting sentences.

“I am so sorry about what happened to both of you,” said Knott, who asked them for forgiveness. 

Lou Busico, Knott’s attorney, asked for probation. He said Knott has been “excoriated” in the press and that has been part of her punishment.

“This didn’t happen to her,” Barry responded. “She did it.” 

Prosecutors said Knott, 25, the daughter of a suburban police chief, carried out a hate crime when she and group of others from Bucks County assaulted a gay couple on Sept. 11, 2014.

A jury of eight women and four men convicted Knott in December of simple assault, reckless endangerment and conspiracy in connection with what prosecutors described as a vicious homophobic attack that left one victim with a pair of black eyes and another with a fractured jaw.

The jury acquitted Knott of the most serious charge, aggravated assault, which is a felony.

Two others charged in the attack, Phillip Williams and Kevin Harrigan, reached plea deals with prosecutors and avoided jail time. Both said they were not motivated by hatred toward gays. Still, Common Pleas Judge Roxanne Covington ordered that they perform community service at a LGBT center as part of their punishment.

During the trial, Knott’s attorney, Louis Busico, argued that the young woman witnessed her friends attacking two men after a night of drinking celebrating a birthday in Center City. But Knott herself, Busico said, didn’t commit any crimes.

On the stand, Knott told the jury she ran away from the violent scene after trying to stop Harrigan from punching the gay couple.

Witness testimony about Knott’s involvement has been inconsistent. Some, including the victims, recall her punching while shouting homophobic slurs. Others, however, said Knott didn’t participate.

Assistant District Attorney Mike Barry told the jury that some details might be fuzzy because the scene was so chaotic. But multiple witnesses picked Knott’s face out of a lineup of eight young women. The witnesses said Knott was undeniably among the perpetrators.

Barry said Knott’s prior social media activity offered some context about her opinions before the night of the assault.

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

Under questioning, Knott explained that the tweets were carelessly sent, and that she didn’t mean any harm.

After the incident, Philadelphia City Council approved a bill expanding the city’s hate crime law to include sexual orientation. It stiffens penalties by an additional $2,000 fine and up to another 60 days in prison for offenders. It did not apply to Knott’s case.

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