September 22, 2011

Hate crime alleged in attack in Harlan

By: Bill Estep
Lexington Herald-Leader

PARTRIDGE — An advocacy group has asked federal officials to investigate a case in which a Letcher County man says he was viciously beaten in Harlan County because he is gay.

Two men have been charged in state court with attempted murder and two women have been charged with complicity to commit attempted murder stemming from the April beating of Kevin Pennington.

The Kentucky Equality Federation recently asked the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene in the case, saying there was a concern the case wouldn't be handled aggressively locally.

It is the second such request the federation has made in Harlan County in recent months concerning an alleged attack related to sexual orientation.

Jordan Palmer, president of the federation, said that Pennington's case should be prosecuted as a hate crime, but that he was not aware of a prosecutor in southeastern Kentucky ever using the state's hate-crime law.

However, Harlan County Commonwealth's Attorney Henry Johnson said he intended to pursue the case as a hate crime, which would bring a higher penalty for a conviction. Johnson said he thought there was evidence that the attack on Pennington was motivated by his sexual orientation. Johnson said any concern that his office would not prosecute the case well was unfounded.

"I think the case would be treated fairly and seriously here," he said.

In the other alleged hate crime, a lesbian couple attending a Fourth of July fireworks show with the children of one of the women said several people who had been drinking yelled slurs and attacked them.

Pennington, 28, of Partridge was assaulted in April, according to court documents. However, the federation only recently asked federal officials to step in because Pennington had not come forward, Palmer said.

Pennington said people had directed slurs at him before, but no one had ever attacked him physically.

"They would not have done this to me if I wasn't gay," he said.

Those charged in the attack are David Jason Jenkins, 37; Anthony Ray Jenkins, 20; Mabel Ashley Jenkins, 18; and Alexis Leann Jenkins, 18.

The men were first charged with assault, but a grand jury changed the charge to attempted murder. The women were charged with complicity. All four have pleaded not guilty.

According to court records, David Jason Jenkins and the two women live in Harlan County. The records list an address for Anthony Jenkins in Partridge, which is nearby in Letcher County.

Pennington said the men are cousins; Mabel Ashley Jenkins, whom he called Ashley, is Anthony Jenkins' sister, and Alexis Jenkins is his wife.

Attempts to reach them or their attorneys Wednesday were not successful; Anthony Jenkins hung up when contacted by telephone.

Pennington told the Herald-Leader he once had a relationship with a male relative of Ashley and Anthony Jenkins.

Ashley Jenkins had told Pennington he shouldn't be gay, however, and had made advances toward him, said Pennington, who works part-time as a school maintenance worker.

Pennington said that Ashley Jenkins called him about a week before the attack and wanted to go out, but that he rejected her again in pointed terms, which he was told angered her. Pennington said he also had turned away advances from David Jason Jenkins, whom he called Jason.

Ashley and Alexis Jenkins came to his mobile home after dark April 4 and asked him to ride around in Cumberland, Pennington said. He decided to go because he needed cigarettes and soft drinks, and gas prices were high.

There were two men in the front seat of a Chevrolet pickup outside. The women said the two were their boyfriends, Pennington said. The men were wearing caps pulled low, so he couldn't see who they were when he and Ashley Jenkins got in the back seat, Pennington said.

He said he recognized Jason Jenkins as they drove toward Kingdom Come State Park, at Cumberland, and he began asking to get out of the truck, but they wouldn't let him.

Jason Jenkins began telling Pennington in graphic terms that he planned to sexually assault him, Pennington said.

Pennington said he couldn't get out by himself because the back door couldn't be opened with the front door closed.

He said he was shaking with fear as they drove up the mountain to Kentucky's highest state park, then out the paved Little Shepherd Trail.

When they stopped, the men pulled Pennington out of the truck, threw him to the ground and began stomping his head, legs, arms and back with their heavy boots and punching him while the two women yelled things such as "Kill that faggot," Pennington said.

"My head would hit the road and I would just see bright flashes of light," said Pennington, wiping away tears.

Pennington said he lost consciousness.

When he awoke, curled in a ball on the ground, he heard Anthony Jenkins talking about finding a tire iron in the truck, and Jason Jenkins telling Ashley Jenkins she would have to help throw Pennington over the mountain when they were done, Pennington said.

Thinking the assailants planned to kill him, Pennington decided to jump over the side of the mountain near the trail, not knowing whether it was a drop of 10 feet or 50 feet. He gathered his strength and ran.

"I was going to be dead one way or another, so I jumped," Pennington said.

He hit the ground quickly and ran down the hillside; he hid behind a boulder when he heard the -others coming after him.

His attackers eventually stopped looking for him, and he heard the truck pull away. Pennington said he was wet, cold and in pain, but he hid in the woods for about 45 minutes to make sure they were gone.

His ankle was badly sprained, but he hobbled up the hill and made his way to the ranger station at the park. No one was there.

Pennington said he got into a maintenance truck to wait for help. When no one came after about two hours, he broke out a window at the station and used the telephone to call 911 and his family.

When police and the ambulance arrived, boot prints were visible on his face, Pennington said. One of his ears was torn and bloody, he was badly bruised, he had a torn ligament in his shoulder, and there was gravel from the road embedded in his head, he said.

Pennington identified the alleged attackers, and police rounded them up.

Sheriff's deputy Matt Cope, the investigating officer, said in a criminal complaint that Ashley and Alexis Jenkins lured Pennington into the truck and spurred on the two men during the assault.

Anthony Jenkins admitted to beating Pennington, and others in the truck told police that Jason Jenkins also beat Pennington, Cope said in citations.

Pennington said the attack haunts him: He has nightmares and wakes up drenched in sweat, and he has been in counseling.

"I'm constantly looking over my shoulder," he said.

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