Witness: Pair Plotted to Kill Man in Eastern Kentucky Because He Is Gay

Oct 17, 2012

Two eastern Kentucky men plotted to lure a gay man to his death in a Harlan County state park because of his sexual orientation, a woman who pleaded guilty in the case testified Wednesday. Mable Ashley Jenkins, 20, of Partridge told jurors in federal court in London that her husband, 22-year-old Anthony Ray Jenkins of Partridge, and his cousin, 37-year-old David Jason Jenkins of Cumberland, wanted to beat Kevin Pennington to death and dump his body off a cliff or bury it in a hole in Kingdom Come State Park on April 4, 2011.

"They was going to kill him," she said on the opening day of the trial for the two men. "They was going to finish him off." Instead, Pennington survived the beating and made a call for help.

The sometimes contradictory testimony from Ashley Jenkins came after jurors heard opening statements from prosecutors, who outlined a plot to use a proposed drug deal to lure Pennington out of his apartment and then kill him.

The two men are charged with kidnapping, assault and committing a hate crime. They have pleaded not guilty.

Defense attorneys for both men acknowledge a fight took place but say Pennington's sexual orientation was not the cause.

Government attorneys say this is the first prosecution in the nation charging a violation of the sexual orientation section of the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was passed in 2009.

Ashley Jenkins and her sister-in-law, Alexis Jenkins, pleaded guilty in April to lesser charges in exchange for their testimony.

Ashley Jenkins testified that Pennington pleaded with her to save him just before Anthony Jenkins and David Jason Jenkins taunted him with anti-gay slurs and started kicking and punching him.

"He asked me not to let them hurt him," Ashley Jenkins testified.

"Over and over?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Hydee Hawkins asked.

"Yes. He begged me," Jenkins said.

Hawkins told jurors that Ashley and Alexis Jenkins went to Pennington's apartment and asked him to help them get some Suboxone, a prescription drug used to treat withdrawal symptoms in opiate addicts.

The pair lured Pennington into Anthony Jenkins' truck but Pennington was unaware the two men were in the front seat, Hawkins told jurors. Her assertion was backed by Ashley Jenkins' testimony. On the way to the rural, mountainous park, the men revealed themselves to Pennington and beat him on a mountainside, Hawkins said.

Pennington escaped the beating when the two men stopped to get a tire iron, Hawkins said.

"He used every bit of strength he had to get up, run across the road and ... jump off that mountain," Hawkins said.

Willis Coffey, an attorney for Anthony Jenkins, and Andrew Stephens, who represents David Jason Jenkins, told jurors that their clients were mixed up in drugs but did not attack anyone for reasons of sexual orientation.

On cross-examination, Coffey read letters Ashley Jenkins wrote to family members and recounted conversations with friends in which she said drugs, not sexual orientation, prompted the attack on Pennington. Ashley Jenkins stuck to her testimony about Pennington being attacked because he's gay and said she lied to six friends and three family members in the letters and conversations.

Ashley Jenkins added that she pleaded guilty to avoid a possible sentence of life in federal prison.

"It's not easy to get a good deal from the government, is it?" Coffey asked.

"No," Ashley Jenkins replied.