“This is a hate crime.”
That’s how Assistant District Attorney Mike Barry began his closing arguments Tuesday in the four-day trial of Kathryn Knott, a 25-year-old Bucks County woman accused of helping to brutally beat a gay couple in Center City Philadelphia last year.
“This is the point in the trial when I can get up and talk to you face-to-face,” Barry continued, repeating: “This is a hate crime.”
Knott wasn’t charged with a hate crime, as the statute doesn’t exist in Pennsylvania. But she faces two counts of aggravated assault and two counts of simple assault, among other charges, in connection with the Sept. 11, 2014 incident that left two victims, Zachary Hesse and Andrew Haught, injured near 16th and Chancellor streets. The assault became widely known as the Center City gay-bashing and drew national attention.
The prosecution and defense rested their cases Tuesday afternoon in a packed courtroom, with Hesse and Haught seated directly behind prosecutors. Behind them were more than a dozen assistant district attorneys. The other side of the courtroom was filled with Knott’s family, friends and other supporters.
Closing arguments started just hours after Knott took the stand and testified earlier in the day, when she contended she didn’t hit, punch or strike anyone, and denied using gay slurs to refer to Hesse and his boyfriend Haught, who was hospitalized for five days after the assault and had his face broken in several places. Hesse and Haught testified Knott was among a group of people who called them “fucking faggots” multiple times.
Under questioning from her attorney Louis Busico, of Newtown, Knott said Tuesday morning of the evening in question: “It was horrifying to see what was happening. I had never been in that type of situation in my entire life.”
After that, Busico called seven different character witnesses ranging from close friends to a former school teacher to the parent of a friend who testified to her stellar reputation for being “peaceful and nonviolent,” words used by every character witness after being asked by Busico.
So during closing arguments, Busico spoke for about 45 minutes and told the jury of 12 — eight women and four men — the same thing he said during his opening: This was a fight between four men and Knott was an innocent bystander to an “unfortunate” situation.
He claims the fight was between victims Hesse and Haught and Philip R. Williams, 25, and Kevin J. Harrigan, 27. Both of the latter men were out with Knott that night and later accepted plea deals that kept them out of prison. Knott declined an offered plea deal and elected to go to trial.
What Busico largely backed away from during his closing was the idea that it was Hesse and Haught who were the main aggressors. Multiple witnesses who testified for the defense, save for Knott, said that Hesse threw members of their group of 15 to the ground. One man there that night went as far as to say: “We were attacked out of nowhere.”
Instead, the defense attorney focused on Harrigan and Williams.
Busico said Harrigan has a “big arrogant mouth” and he was the one using the word “faggot,” and not Knott, as multiple witnesses and the victims had testified. He later called Harrigan a “moron” and said Williams, who witnesses said delivered punishing blows to Haught’s face, was “crazed.”
“[Williams] is no friend of mine. He’s no friend of hers,” Busico said, pointing at Knott. “Whatever he did, he did… that was the act of Philip Williams and Philip Williams alone.”
Busico attempted to poke holes in witnesses’ identifications of Knott. One eyewitness who identified her in a photo array said she was wearing a black and white dress, but really her dress was white and floral. Haught identified Knott in a photo array as well, but Busico reminded the jury that Haught had lost his glasses toward the beginning of the fight, and couldn’t see well without them.
Last week, Hesse testified that it was Knott who called him a “faggot” and punched him in the face. Another eyewitness testified she saw a person “in a white dress” punching a man and the crowd yelling “ohhh” afterwards.
Knott’s defense attorney also attempted to tell the jury that extensive testimony about Knott’s extensive, much-criticized social media activity was irrelevant to the case. Prosecutors introduced four separate tweets that could be construed as anti-gay in nature. One tweet was directed at a work friend, and she used the word “#dyke” to describe that she looked bad that day. Another was about two men kissing, to which she wrote “#gay #ew.”
While on the witness stand, Knott said the tweets weren’t slurs, and said that she wouldn’t use them to someone’s face because she “has gay friends and family.” Busico said the tweets were sent by Knott before the incident ever took place, and said they are nothing but a “distraction” from the facts.
“There was more time spent about her college tweeting habits and her college activities than there were about Sept. 11, 2014,” he said. “…It’s the window dressing. It’s the ‘look over here’ moment.”
Following Busico’s closing, Barry, the lead prosecutor on the case, spent about 90 minutes drawing connections between his witnesses and arguing that Knott isn’t “unlucky” or being wrongly accused. Instead, he tried to describe her as a person who “does not like gay people” and played a role in the injuries sustained that night.
He added that he believes Hesse and Haught — as well as neutral eyewitnesses — have no reason to lie or to make up a statement to police that “a woman in a white dress” was involved and, specifically, threw a punch.
“The man [Hesse] loves was brutalized. The man he loves and himself were degraded with slurs,” Barry said. “Mr. Hesse had to be emotionally injured as he was speaking to police officers… why would he throw a girl in there if it was not true?”
Barry claimed that testimony among the witnesses for the defense didn’t line up, specifically four people who were there that night who didn’t come forward to police until they saw surveillance footage of themselves on the news days after the incident. Each of them had a lawyer present during initial interviews with police.
The prosecutor pointed out that one man who was there that night said he was punched, but it somehow didn’t make it into a police report. Another woman claimed Haught punched her with a closed fist with his left hand, even though Haught is right-handed. The same woman testified she was punched so hard she had to get dental work done to her back teeth, but said she “didn’t know if it was a cavity or related to this.”
Each of the defense witnesses this week struggled to explain the fight in physical terms, using words like “scuffle,” “altercation,” and “grappling” to describe what had been going on that night.
“We kept getting these vague terms,” Barry said Tuesday. “If you really want to clear the air, why don’t you give us some details?”
He also addressed the concern that pointing the jury toward Knott’s tweeting habits was a distraction from the facts of the case. Barry claims that they prove a pattern of bigoted behavior against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
“On that day, she wasn’t seeing these two men as human beings,” he said. “She saw a faggot.”
As part of his closing arguments, Barry listed each charge Knott faced, and used a Phillies metaphor to describe how conspiracy works. While Busico claimed there was no conspiracy to hurt a gay couple that night of the incident, Barry said that under Pennsylvania law, there doesn’t need to be a spoken agreement in order to conspire against something.
He pointed to back in 2007 when the Phillies helped the Colorado Rockies grounds crew recover a tarp that was nearly blowing away during a thunderstorm.
Judge Roxanne Covington will charge the jury Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. and deliberations will begin.