Judge denies new sentence for Kathryn Knott

Judge denies new sentence for Kathryn Knott

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Common Pleas Judge Roxanne Covington was unmoved by defense attorney Bill Brennan's impassioned call for a new sentence for his client, Kathryn Knott. 

"The sentence was well within the guidelines and is as appropriate as I can provide under law," Covington said at the motions hearing Monday, before ordering Knott, who was present, back to confinement at Riverside Correctional Facility. 

Brennan filed a resentencing request last month, 10 days after Covington sentenced his client to five to 10 months in prison. Knott now has 30 days to request a full appeal, which would take the case to a higher court. The appeal deadline had been extended because of the resentencing motion.

Knott was convicted in December of simple assault, conspiracy to commit simple assault and two counts of reckless endangerment in connection with the September 2014 attack on gay couple Andrew Haught and Zachary Hesse. Her co-defendants, Philip Williams and Kevin Harrigan, pleaded guilty last year, but she rejected a plea deal and took her case to trial. Williams and Harrigan are both serving probation and are required to perform community service.

The hearing commenced after a short recess, as the van transporting Knott and other prisoners from Riverside was delayed. Dressed in a gray sweater and black pants with her hair in a braid, Knott took her seat at the defense table next to Brennan, without any interaction with her parents and other family members assembled in the courtroom.

Among his arguments, Brennan, who succeeded Knott's trial attorney Louis Busico, argued that the difference in sentences among Knott, Harrigan and Williams should prompt reconsideration.

"Philip Williams struck the devastating blows and received a sentence of non-incarceration. Kathryn Knott was acquitted of those more serious charges," Brennan said, contending that the three-month sentence for the simple-assault conviction was more in line with an aggravated-assault sentence.

He also said Knott's compliance while in prison should merit consideration of a new sentence.

Knott has been carrying out the job assigned to her — cleaning the prison bathrooms — Brennan said, and has had no write-ups. She is also in the midst of anger-management sessions with a psychologist. 

"She's doing well in prison," he said. "She's had the opportunity to show that she is compliant and what she is doing is completely in the context of the judicial intent of this sentence. There is no indication that she's not doing everything she's been asked by prison officials."

When given the floor, prosecutor Allison Ruth, however, countered that Knott shouldn't be rewarded for being compliant.

"So what? You don't get credit for doing what you're supposed to be doing," she said. "You're not supposed to get in trouble in prison."

Brennan also proposed a number of alternatives to incarceration, such as house arrest or work release. He noted Knott has been guaranteed a position at Thackray Crane, a crane-rental company based in Northeast Philadelphia, and has secured living arrangements in the Fox Chase section of the Northeast. Brennan also outlined more creative options, such as Knott's participation in a public-service announcement about anti-LGBT violence.

"It'd be disingenuous of me to say I wasn't aware of the community's ire in regard to the ripple effects this case has had. It's the elephant in the room," Brennan said, noting he reached out, unsuccessfully, to the prosecutor's office, the Office of LGBT Affairs and PGN publisher Mark Segal to cull support for a proposed community-outreach sentence. "This case goes beyond the injuries of the victims and has affected a section of our community. It may look to people like Ms. Knott is reaching out in a self-serving way, and a part of this may include that, but this case has had a long-lasting impact on the LGBT community and the city of Philadelphia. She's now into her second month in jail, and it seems like another alternative could be more productive and proactive." 

Ruth fired back at that idea.

"The idea of a PSA would be comical if it wasn't so offensive," she said. Ruth said Knott never took responsibility for her role in the incident, instead apologizing to the victims for "what happened" to them. She also referenced Knott's history of homophobic and racist social-media posts.

"Is that someone who should do a PSA on tolerance? That's offensive and ridiculous. The best PSA to deter a hate crime is if this defendant carries out the sentence your honor properly imposed," Ruth argued.

Brennan, however, countered that Knott's views have changed because of the case, likening her to several historic figures known for intolerant views whom Brennan said evolved over time — such as Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo and anti-desegregation Alabama Gov. George Wallace. 

"If not Kathryn Knott, then who else? We don't need someone who embraces the community and gets it," Brennan said.

"Why is she so special?" Ruth questioned back. "Hate is hate. Enough is enough."

Covington concurred with Ruth, saying Knott knew going into trial that the eventual outcome could be worse than the plea deal that was offered to her.

"When you choose to go to trial, you're taking the choice out of your hands and putting it in the hands of 12 citizens who will decide your guilt or innocence," Covington said. "You no longer have control of what your sentence will be."

Covington added that confinement is recommended when a defendant "needs corrective treatment or a lesser sentence would depreciate the seriousness of a crime."

She said that during trial, "Ms. Knott displayed a disconnect to this incident and a failure to take personal responsibility for the crimes committed." Covington added that Knott offered a poor explanation for her antigay Tweets and exhibited "no comprehension of the offensiveness in her commentary."

The judge also said the case's impact goes beyond the LGBT community.

"Injustice anywhere affects justice everywhere," she said. "Hatred toward a group is no different than hatred toward all of us. Every single one of us has the right to be who we are, to love whom we want to love, to walk the street and enjoy this city without fear of ridicule, torture or attack." 

After upholding her sentence, Knott was taken to the side of the court while the courtroom emptied. 

Ruth told PGN outside the courtroom the prosecution team was pleased with Covington's response. 

"It was appropriate," she said. "Obviously we agreed with her initial sentence, and she clearly articulated all the reasons why it was an appropriate sentence." 


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