Two men accused of attacking a gay couple in Center City last year accepted plea deals this week that do not include any jail time, while a third suspect will head to trial.
Kevin Harrigan, 26, and Philip Williams, 25, pleaded guilty Thursday morning in connection with the Sept. 11, 2014, attack on Zachary Hesse and Andrew Haught at 16th and Chancellor streets. Kathryn Knott, 25, also implicated in the crime, rejected a plea deal from the District Attorney's Office, which prosecutor Mike Barry said was "similar" to that of the other defendants. She was scheduled for an Oct. 30 hearing to decide a trial date. A trial could come within six months, depending on the schedule of the judge, Barry said.
The defendants were walking with a large group of friends the night of the incident when they encountered the couple. Harrigan said to Hesse, "Who is that? Your fucking boyfriend?" and went on to call him a "dirty faggot," Barry said in court Thursday. Barry said Harrigan then pushed Hesse, Hesse pushed back and Harrigan punched him in the face. Barry said Hesse's arms were pinned to his side and he was struck multiple times. Williams physically assaulted Haught multiple times, and Knott allegedly attempted to swing at the men but missed, also using homophobic language, Barry said. Haught was left with facial fractures and had his jaw wired shut for two months.
The incident caused a sharp public outcry and prompted Philadelphia City Council to enact an LGBT-inclusive hate-crimes law that allows for fines and up to 90 days in jail for offenders; Harrigan, Williams and Knott could not be charged under the law, as it was adopted after the incident.
Harrigan pleaded guilty to simple assault and conspiracy and was sentenced to three years' reporting probation, 200 hours of community service to be carried out at an LGBT organization and restitution in the amount of $314. Williams pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and conspiracy and was sentenced to five years' reporting probation, as well as 200 hours of community service to be carried out at an LGBT organization and restitution in the amount of $627. Both are also prohibited from entering Center City Philadelphia, defined as Washington to Girard avenues and from the Delaware to Schuylkill rivers throughout the duration of their probation.
Barry told PGN Thursday that the agreed-upon deals were similar to what was originally offered the men this summer.
"The nature of the charges and probation was always the same," he said. "A lot of the time that was spent was on ironing out other aspects, regarding the stay-away order, the community service, that kind of stuff. Those were the details we've been dealing with."
Barry noted that a decision on where Harrigan and Williams will perform their community service has not yet been finalized.
"We’re still working on that with the probation office," Barry said. "It can be a little tough because you want to make sure you're not infringing or bothering people who are doing their work at an organization. But we're working with [state Rep.] Brian Sims' office, Nellie [Fitzpatrick, director of LGBT Affairs] and Cameron [Kline, DA spokesperson]."
With most LGBT organizations located within the Center City boundaries, Barry said allowances to the no-entry section of the plea deal will be made so Harrigan and Williams can carry out their community service.
"We would treat it like we would if they had to come to court," Barry said. "They'll have permission to come, perform the community service and leave, and not linger."
Barry noted that Haught and Hesse were "satisfied" with the details of the agreements, and were eager to avoid a trial.
"I asked them shortly after the preliminary hearing what they wanted and the victims did not want a trial," Barry said.
Had the case gone to trial, one charge of aggravated assault without serious bodily injury is a felony that is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and simple assault is a misdemeanor punishable by up to two years in prison. Both had been charged with two counts of aggravated assault, two counts of simple assault, reckless endangerment and conspiracy, charges that still stand against Knott.
All three defendants were present in court Thursday, the first time since their preliminary hearing in March, with their attorneys; Harrigan was represented by Josh Scarpello, Williams by Fortunato Perri, Jr. and Knott by Louis Busico. Haught and Hesse entered the courtroom with a number of family and friends shortly after the defendants, and took seats several rows in front of them.
After the plea deals were announced, Barry addressed the court on behalf of Haught and Hesse.
"This resolution is the wish of the complainants," Barry told the court and Common Pleas Judge Frank Palumbo, who presided. "Their wish was for this to be over. They wanted to have this resolved and send a message to the city."
Barry noted that the incident jolted the victims and the LGBT community.
"I've talked to many LGBT people about this case, including friends and family of mine, and the resounding theme is that they thought Center City was safe," Barry said. "LGBT people live with a certain amount of fear every day, whether they are in a store or a restaurant, that they are going to be judged by who they are and how they live their life. And this case struck a chord because Center City is supposed to be a place of refuge. Throughout history, people have come to cities for refuge, to the left alone. And these two men shattered that."
Both Harrigan and Williams offered their own words to the victims, who did not look at the defendants when they addressed the court.
"I'm very sorry for my actions that night. I apologize to the victims," Williams said, noting he only got involved when he perceived Knott to be threatened. "My conduct had nothing to do with their sexual orientation. That is not how I live my life or the person I am."
"I want to reiterate what Phil said," Harrigan began. "None of us wanted this to happen. It is what it is, and I'm sorry for the whole situation."
Barry said the victims are hopeful that the defendants will use the probation time to consider the impact of their actions.
"We understand that they don't see themselves as the type of people who would normally do this," Barry said, "but we hope they spend time trying to put themselves in these other people's position and think how it would feel to be surrounded, slurred, insulted and frankly terrified. We hope this sentence will help these individuals see that, keep this from ever happening again and repair the reputation of our city, which was hurt by what these people did."
Harrigan and Williams have 10 days to reconsider their plea agreements and 30 days to appeal the sentence to Superior Court.
“Today’s agreement is certainly about justice, but it is also about honoring the wishes of the victims to make sure they can continue to heal and gain closure,” Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said in a statement. “I hope that all of us can learn and grow from this horrible incident and be inspired by these two courageous victims, the solidarity of the LGBTQ community and their thousands of supporters and advocates.”