Updated: 1:50 p.m.
A Philadelphia jury has convicted Kathryn Knott of simple assault, two counts of reckless endangerment and one count of conspiracy for the year-old assault of a gay couple in Center City Philadelphia that left a man hospitalized with broken cheekbones and a broken jaw. But the jury found her not guilty of the two more serious charges against her, aggravated assault.
Knott, 25, of Bucks County, teared up as the verdict was read. She remains free on bail and will be sentenced Feb. 8. Her acquittal on the felony charge of aggravated assault means she could escape serious prison time, as the charges represent the first conviction on her record.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Barry said after the verdict came down that jail time is “on the table,” but he’s made no decisions yet in terms of exactly what the commonwealth will seek. He said he’ll consult with victims and sentencing guidelines before deciding.
Barry said the victims in the case were satisfied with the split outcome.
“They were just trying to go home,” Barry said of the night in question. “And that’s still what they’re trying to do. Just to go home from this and have it be over with.”
Knott was charged by Philadelphia prosecutors along with two of her friends shortly after they were identified as suspects in the case that became widely known as the Center City gay bashing. The incident, which took place Sept. 11, 2014 at 16th and Chancellor streets, drew national attention.
Along with Knott, her co-defendants, Philip R. Williams, 25, and Kevin J. Harrigan, 27, were charged with walking in a group of 15 people and attacking a gay couple. One of the men, Zachary Hesse, sustained minor injuries, but his boyfriend Andrew Haught was beaten to a blood pulp and was hospitalized for nearly a week, having to have his jaw wired shut to fix his broken facial bones.
Williams and Harrigan accepted plea deals that kept them out of prison, but Knott declined an offered plea deal and elected to go to trial.
Throughout the four-day trial in the courtroom of Judge Roxanne Covington, Barry attempted to describe Knott as a bigot who “does not like gay people,” starting off his closing arguments with the phrase “this is a hate crime.” Hesse, Haught and eyewitnesses testified they heard members of Knott’s group screaming “fucking faggots.”
Knott wasn’t charged with a hate crime in the case, as the statute doesn’t exist in Pennsylvania and wasn’t passed in Philadelphia until after the assault. Prosecutors charged her with two counts of aggravated assault, two counts of simple assault, two counts of recklessly endangering another person and conspiracy.
Her defense attorney, Louis Busico, of Newtown, rejected the idea that Knott was discriminating against the couple, also contending Knott never hit, punched or struck anyone. She also denied ever using the word “faggot” during the incident, despite Hesse testifying she called him “a faggot” and punched him in the face.
After the verdict was released, Knott cried and Busico leaned over and whispered to her.
“I whispered that I was proud of her,” he said. “I was proud of her because she testified and she looked 12 citizens in the eye and she told them their version of that night. And I was proud of her for sticking up for herself and exercising her right to trial.”
Throughout the trial, testimony showed that a group of about 15 young adults — including the three charged — left La Viola restaurant the night of Sept. 11, 2014 and walked north on 16th Street. They got into an argument with Hesse and Haught after witnesses say Harrigan called them “dirty fucking faggots.”
Things escalated, and several were involved in the ongoing altercation that largely ended when Williams punched Haught with a closed fist, rendering him unconscious. After that, the group left, did not call 911 and went to a bar.
On the defense side, Busico called four different witnesses who were there the night of the incident as part of Knott’s friend group, each saying they didn’t see her hit anyone. None of the four 20-somethings came forward to police until their images were released to the media days after the incident, and each had retained attorneys. At least two implied that they were the ones who were attacked by Hesse and Haught.
But in his closing arguments, Barry claimed that testimony among the defense witnesses didn’t add up. He 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.”
Knott also testified Tuesday morning on her own behalf, reiterating that she didn’t strike anyone that night and claiming that after she saw Williams punch Haught in the face, she “turned and ran the other way.”
She also spent part of her testimony defending herself after prosecutors had introduced four tweets she sent that could be construed as anti-gay. For example, she once tweeted to a friend “the ppl we were dancing with just turned and mafe [sic] out with each other #gay #ew.” Another tweet referenced that she didn’t look good coming to work that day, to which she added “#dyke.”
Under cross examination, Knott said he tweets were “taken out of context” and said that would have never used a word like “dyke” in front of a gay person because she “has gay friends and family.” She also got into a back-and-forth with the prosecutor about the semantics of the word and whether or not it’s hateful or a slur.
Earlier this week, Busico also 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.
He also focused on what turned out to be shaky identifications of Knott made by both the victims and eyewitnesses. One eyewitness identified Knott in a photo array and 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 argument and couldn’t see well without them. Another witness testified she saw a person “in a white dress” punching a man and the crowd yelling “ohhh” afterwards.
During closing arguments, Busico called Harrigan and Williams the aggressors in the case, saying Harrigan has a “big arrogant mouth” and calling Williams, who witnesses say delivered punishing blows to Haught’s face, “crazed.” He also said bringing up Knott’s tweets was a “distraction” the actual issues.
“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.”
Barry clearly disagreed, saying her previous statements showed a reason why she would have wanted to get involved.
“On that day, she wasn’t seeing these two men as human beings…” he said. “She saw a ‘faggot’.”