The U.S. Justice Department announced on Thursday it has issued its first indictment under the hate crimes protection law for an alleged anti-gay crime.
In a statement Thursday, the Justice Department announced that two men from Harlan County, Ky., were indicted for kidnapping and assaulting a gay man because of his sexual orientation.
According to the Justice Department, a federal grand jury in London, Ky., returned a three-count indictment charging David Jason Jenkins, 37, and Anthony Ray Jenkins, 20, for kidnapping and assaulting Kevin Pennington, and for conspiring with each other and with other unnamed individuals to commit the kidnapping.
On April 4, the two defendants allegedly kidnapped and assaulted Kevin Pennington because of his sexual orientation. After getting the victim into a truck, the defendants allegedly drove Pennington a secluded area of the Kingdom Come State Park in Kentucky and assaulted him.
According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, Anthony Jenkins’ wife, Alexis, and sister, Mable, allegedly cheered the attack and yelled things “Kill that faggot.” Neither were named in the indictment.
The Herald-Leader reports Pennington was able to escape during a lull in the attack and hid in the woods until the four stopped looking for him. Among the injuries he suffered were bruises over his body, a torn ligament in his shoulder, a closed-head injury and a torn ear.
According to a local ABC news affiliate, both men pled not guilty on Thursday and a June trial date has been set.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which President Obama signed into law in 2009, expanded the federal hate crimes law to include bias-motivated crimes against LGBT people and reiterates previous protections based on race, color, national origin and religion.
The case marks the first time a federal hate crime has been charged over a violation of the sexual orientation provision of the statute. If convicted, the defendants face a penalty of up to life in prison for each charge.
The case was investigated by FBI Special Agents Anthony Sankey and Mike Brown. It’s being prosecuted by assistant attorney Hydee Hawkins of the U.S. Attorney Office for the Eastern District of Kentucky and trial attorney Angie Cha with the Civil Rights Division.
The indictment is only an accusation. Neither person indicated in the case have been convicted of any crime.
Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, praised the Obama administration for drawing its authority under the Matthew Shepard Act to take action in the case.
“The Department of Justice should be commended for stepping in to ensure that this crime – which was allegedly motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation – is prosecuted to the fullest extent,” Cole-Schwartz said. “The ability for federal officials to work with local law enforcement and bring appropriate resources to bear in cases like this is a critical reason why the Shepard/Byrd Hate Crimes law is so important.”