Knott found guilty of assault in Center City gay beating case [updated]

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Kathryn Knott could face jail time after a jury of eight women and four men convicted her of simple assault, two counts of reckless endangerment and conspiracy in the beating of a gay couple in Philadelphia last year.

But the jury Friday acquitted her on the most serious charge, aggravated assault, a felony.

Jurors were convinced that Knott was among those who brutally attacked two men on their way to get pizza in Philly’s Gayborhood, targeted because of their sexual orientation. The attack left one of the victims bloodied with a broken jaw and another with two black eyes.

Knott’s attorney Louis Busico, meanwhile, contended his client was merely a bystander to the violence. Busico told jurors that the commonwealth falsely accused Knott of crimes she didn’t commit.

Two of the men Knott was with Sept. 11, 2014 — Phillip Williams and Kevin Harrigan, who both took plea deals and avoided jail time — were the bad actors, Busico said, saying jurors shouldn’t throw Knott into that group.

But the jury viewed it differently.

“It’s not fair to [the victims]. It’s not fair to anybody. It’s not fair to anyone with any sensibility. It’s just,” said jury forewoman Joan Bellinger. “Not. Fair. It’s not fair that this kind of thing happens.”

The fact that multiple witnesses testified they saw Knott punch the victims was enough to convince Bellinger that she deserves to be convicted.

Bellinger, who said her mind was made up the second the trial concluded, said almost all the other jurors agreed. Two on the panel, however, didn’t think the felony charge of aggravated assault was appropriate.

“That was the hard part,” said juror Ari Duenas. “They weren’t basing their decision on evidence. They were basing it on emotions. And feeling bad about this poor girl.”

Knott appeared tense, biting her lower lip and holding a fixed stare, as Bellinger read the verdict. Then Knott broke down in tears.

“I whispered that I’m proud of her. I was proud of her because she testified and she looked 12 citizens in the eye and she told them her version of what happened that night,” Busico said. “You know, she was stoic that night. She’s a relatively young person. She’s a 25-year old young woman. So I was proud with how she conducted herself.”

Sentencing guidelines call for probation on her four misdemeanors, but she could get some jail time.  Duenas said that would be appropriate.

“I think she needs a couple years to think about her behavior, honestly,” Duenas said.

Witnesses testified there may have been 15 in the group in town from Bucks County, leaving some wondering why only three were charged.

“I think it says exactly what we’re supposed to do in this case, which is to be cautious,” Assistant District Attorney Mike Barry said. “We’re not supposed to be willy-nilly, charge someone if we think or feel that something took place.”

He said time and time again, Knott, Phil Williams and Kevin Harrigan were identified, while they couldn’t find enough evidence on other suspects.

Prosecutors argued Knott’s tweets from as long as four years ago in which she used the hashtags “gay” and “dyke” was enough to establish that Knott had pre-existing animus toward gays and lesbians.

When asked about the relevance of the tweets, jurors said it didn’t weigh heavily in arriving at their verdict. Jury forewoman Bellinger said it was completely irrelevant in her decision process.

Busico says the fact that Knott wasn’t convicted of a felony is a big deal because a felony conviction can cause irreparable damage to a person’s life.

Nellie Fitzpatrick, who heads the city’s office of LGBT affairs, said the perpetrators’ attitudes, as portrayed by prosecutors, are not all that rare.

On the stand, Knott said using the words “gay” or “dyke” are not necessarily offensive in all contexts.

“It’s reflective of the fact that there’s still a lot of people across our country who, instead of understanding who people are, instead of learning about them, because they are different, they’re first reaction is hate,” Fitzpatrick said.

Busico told reporters that “not a fiber of her being” is homophobic.

Knott’s sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 8.

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