Kathryn Knott and her attorney took a gamble, and the chips will begin to fall this week.
The 25-year-old from Southampton, Bucks County, will face trial beginning Wednesday on multiple charges stemming from the now infamous Center City gay-bashing incident of September 2014 — and her decision to go to trial instead of accept a plea deal could have a huge impact on what happens and if she faces jail time.
“When you’re prosecuting, there’s nothing wrong with saying ‘Look, you forced me to trial, you forced me to do work, I’m going to try to get jail time on you,’” Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Jeffrey Lindy observed. “And it’s legitimate. Prosecutors have a finite amount of time.”
The trial for Knott, who is currently free after posting 10 percent of her $50,000 bail, begins at 9 a.m. Wednesday under Judge Roxanne Covington. She faces two counts of aggravated assault, two counts of simple assault, two counts of recklessly endangering another person and conspiracy.
The charges stem from an incident on Sept. 11, 2014 at 16th and Chancellor streets. The three defendants charged in the case were walking out of dinner at La Viola West with a group of people when they encountered a gay couple. After an altercation — and allegedly a bunch of gay slurs — one of the men was hit several times while the other was hospitalized for injuries that included two broken cheekbones and a broken jaw.
Knott’s co-defendants in the case — Philip R. Williams, 25, and Kevin J. Harrigan, 27 — agreed in October to what Lindy called “a sweetheart” plea deal that kept them both out of prison. Williams was sentenced to five years probation and a $627 restitution payment while Harrigan pleaded guilty and received three years’ probation and $314 in restitution.
In addition, both must serve 200 hours of community service at an LBGT advocacy organization and are both banned from Center City Philadelphia as their probation plays out — they’re not allowed to step foot in the city from Girard Avenue to Washington Avenue, river to river, without permission from local authorities.
“Any way you slice it,” Lindy said, “that’s a light sentence for that sort of injury.”
A spokesman for the district attorney’s office said the office wouldn’t release details on the plea deal Knott was offered. Knott’s defense attorney, Louis Busico, said that “from day one, Kathryn has always steadfastly maintained her innocence.”
“At no time did she strike anyone,” Busico said, “nor did she encourage anybody to do so.”
After the two men involved pleaded guilty and accepted deals through the Office of the District Attorney, DA Seth Williams said in a statement that though the “agreement is certainly about justice… it is also about honoring the wishes of the victims to make sure they can continue to heal and gain closure.”
Caryn Kunkle, a friend of the victims’ who has spoken out on their behalf before, posted on Facebook shortly after the plea deals were announced that “the plea deals were offered by the victims in an effort to kickstart some mercy and education between these diverse communities by setting a peaceful precedent.”
Some reports have suggested that defense attorneys in the case may argue self-defense — even though only one side of this fight ended up in the hospital and an eyewitness said “I don’t see how it could be self-defense. There were 12 people there.”
If Knott is found guilty, she could still technically receive only a probationary sentence, but Lindy said prosecutors are more likely to seek jail time since she declined an earlier plea deal.
In Pennsylvania, sentencing guidelines are advisory and standard range for assault is three to 12 months in prison, plus or minus six months depending on circumstances like whether or not it’s the defendant’s first offense, whether they were convicted of an aggravated offense.
Lindy said that if Knott did in fact turn down a plea deal, he could see a judge agreeing to a six- to 12-month sentence in county jail.
You may remember Knott bore the brunt of the public ire in the aftermath of charges being filed: Her tweets were aired and they ranged from anti-gay to messages about her police chief father. Four of her tweets that can be considered anti-gay will be allowed into evidence.
Lindy said that though prosecutors aren’t pursuing a hate crime charge against Knott — a sexual orientation-based statute doesn’t exist in Pennsylvania — the anti-gay tweets can still establish motivation and intent.
“Center City is supposed to be a place of refuge,” prosecutor Mike Barry said of the plea deals. “Their hope is that the sentencing handed down will make people feel safe. The whole city was hurt.”