By Mary Meehan
A Kentucky gay rights group has offered financial support to the family of the Jackson County teen whose classmates have been charged with kidnapping and attempted murder in a case police have deemed a prank pushed too far.
The Kentucky Equality Federation, an all-volunteer group, held a news conference in Lexington on Friday to encourage classifying as a hate crime the actions of three Jackson County High School students who have been accused of trying to push Cheyenne Williams, who is openly gay, off a cliff.
Kentucky State Police investigating the incident have said they have found no evidence that the case is a hate crime.
But Jordan Palmer, president of the Kentucky Equality Federation, said police officers don’t have the final word on what should be considered a hate crime.
According to state law, there is no “hate crime charge,” but the sentencing judge may determine whether the primary motivation for a crime is hate. If that determination is made, additional penalties may apply at sentencing, said Allison Martin, spokesman for the Kentucky Attorney General’s office.
There is a federal hate crimes statute.
Palmer said members of his group will be attending Monday’s hearing for the charged teens. They also have offered to help pay legal expenses if Williams’ family wants to push for a hate crime designation or pursue a civil lawsuit where hate as a motivation could influence a monetary judgment.
He said that since Williams’ story came out, his group has received complaints of hate-inspired acts of discrimination from 18 young people in 11 counties.
In the Jackson County case, Ashley Sams and Corinne Schwab, both 18, and a 17-year-old student have been charged with attempted murder and kidnapping. The 17-year-old has not been identified because of her age. The alleged assault took place April 16. Sams and Schwab each have been released on a $25,000 bond.