May 29, 2013 at 4:40 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Lesbian student rejects plea in sex-with-minor arrest
Kaitlyn Hunt, Lesbian, Gay News, Washington Blade

Kaitlyn Hunt, 18, faces 15 years in prison for a consensual relationship with a younger teen. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

An 18-year-old lesbian arrested in February for having consensual sex with her then 14-year-old girlfriend and high school classmate has rejected an offer by a Florida prosecutor to lower the charge against her in exchange for a guilty plea.

At the advice of her lawyers and parents, Kaitlyn Hunt turned down an offer to plead guilty to third-degree felony child abuse, even though the charge doesn’t require her to be listed as a sex offender and the prosecutor promised to recommend she be sentenced to home detention rather than time in prison.

She is currently charged with two counts of lewd or lascivious battery, a second-degree felony that carries a possible sentence of 15 years in prison and lifelong registration as a sex offender.

“Our client is a courageous teenager who is choosing not to accept the current plea offer by the State of Florida,” said defense attorneys A. Julia and Joseph Graves in a statement released to the media.

“This is a situation of two teenagers who happen to be of the same sex involved in a relationship,” the attorneys said. “If this case involved a boy and a girl, there would be no media attention to this case.”

Hunt’s decision to reject the plea offer came after more than 100,000 supporters from throughout the U.S. and several other countries signed an online petition initiated by her parents calling for the prosecutor to drop the case.

In response to a campaign started by her father, Steven Hunt Jr., and her mother, Kelley Hunt Smith, about 30,000 supporters joined a Facebook group called Free Kate.

The prosecutor, State Attorney Bruce Colton of Indian River County in central Florida, said his office has no plans to drop the charge. He took exception to claims by Hunt’s supporters that Hunt was singled out because of her sexual orientation, saying his office would have filed the same charge if an 18-year-old male had a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl.

“If one person is over the age of 18 and the other is between the age of 12 and 16, that’s the crime, regardless of the sex of either or both of them,” the New York Times quoted Colton as saying.

“The State Attorney’s Office tendered an extremely lenient plea offer in this case which would have ensured the defendant avoided any term of incarceration and the stigma of being labeled a sex offender,” Colton said in a statement released on May 24. “In fact, in all probability, the defendant would have avoided being a convicted felon.”

Hunt’s parents and supporters said that under the plea offer, a judge would have the option of rejecting the prosecutor’s recommendation and could hand down a sentence of as much as five years in prison.

Colton said the case is now scheduled to go to trial in mid-July. Observers said the younger girl would likely be called as a witness and asked about the intimate details of her sexual relations with Hunt.

Hunt’s parents disclosed in a statement posted on Facebook and in the online petition that the arrest of their daughter was initiated by the parents of the younger girl, whose name has been withheld from the public court record because she’s a minor.

According to Hunt’s parents and lawyers, the other girl’s parents contacted the county sheriff’s office after learning their daughter was in a romantic relationship with an older girl she met in school and that the relationship involved sex.

“They are out to destroy my daughter because they feel like she ‘made’ their daughter gay,” Hunt’s mother, Kelly Hunt Smith, said in the petition.

“They see being gay as wrong and they blame my daughter,” she said. “Of course, I see it 100 percent differently. I don’t see or label these girls as gay. They are teenagers in high school experimenting with their sexuality – with mutual consent. “

Added Smith, “And even if their daughter is gay, who cares? She is still their daughter.”

Hunt’s parents and friends point out that Hunt was a member her school’s women’s basketball team, where she met her girlfriend, and sang in the school choir. They note that at the request of the younger girl’s parents, school officials expelled Hunt, preventing her from graduating with her class this year.

An arrest affidavit filed in court says the younger girl told a detective with the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office that she and Kaitlyn Hunt began dating in November 2012, three months after Hunt turned 18 in August 2012, and while she was 14 and a freshman. Hunt was a senior, authorities said.

The affidavit says the younger girl told the detective the two began having sexual relations “before Christmas 2012” and the sex continued through January 2013. It says the younger girl disclosed their first sexual encounter took place in a bathroom at Sebastian River High School, where the two went to school.

On at least one occasion, the two had sex in Hunt’s bedroom at her parents’ home in Sebastian, Fla., a community located near the City of Vero Beach, the affidavit says.

It says that the younger girl cooperated with sheriff’s investigators by agreeing to their request that she allow investigators to record a phone conversation she initiated with Hunt. The affidavit says the younger girl asked about their sexual encounters during the conversation, prompting Hunt to acknowledge that the sexual encounters took place.

Based on that “controlled phone call,” as the affidavit calls it, the Sheriff’s detective arrested Hunt on Feb. 16. It says Hunt waived her Miranda right to remain silent and admitted to the detective that she and the younger girl engaged in consenting sex.

“Your affiant asked Kaitlyn if she knew it was wrong to have sex with [the younger girl] due to [her] being 14 years old,” the affidavit says. “Kaitlyn stated she didn’t think about it because [the younger girl] acted older.”

“This is an outrageous misapplication of the law that will destroy the lives of two high school teenagers while doing nothing to serve justice,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of the state LGBT rights group Equality Florida.

“We hold out hope that common sense will prevail and the damage that already has been done will be mitigated by halting any felony prosecution,” Smith said in a statement.

“Equality Florida is also reaching out to Florida lawmakers to address the failings of the law that criminalizes high school students and is too often used by parents who object to the race, ethnicity or gender of the schoolmate their teenager is dating,” she said.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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