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Federal jury acquits cousins of hate crime in attack on gay man in landmark case

A jury has acquitted two cousins accused of attacking a Kentucky man because he is gay, the first time prosecutors pursued federal hate crime charges in a case where the victim was allegedly targeted due to their sexual orientation, media reports say.

However, Anthony Jenkins and Jason Jenkins were convicted on Wednesday on kidnapping and conspiracy charges in the assault on Kenneth Pennington in a state park last year.  

The Department of Justice had argued that the pair assaulted Pennington, 29, because he was gay and said the intent was to kill him. Anthony Jenkins' attorney, Willis Coffey, denied that, saying it was a plan to buy drugs that went wrong.

Jurors did not comment after the decision was rendered, nor did federal prosecutors, The Associated Press reported.

Relatives of Anthony Jenkins wept, while Pennington made an audible sigh when the verdict was read, media reports said.

"You'd like to have an acquittal on all counts, but he's happy he was found not guilty of a hate crime," Coffey said, according to The AP. "So am I."

The cousins allegedly punched and kicked Pennington while yelling anti-gay slurs at him during the April 4, 2011 attack in Kingdom Come State Park, The Lexington Herald Leader reported. Defense attorneys argued the attack stemmed from drug and alcohol abuse, said the paper, but the prosecutor argued otherwise.

"This is not about drugs, this is about the fact that Kevin is gay," U.S. Justice Department civil rights attorney AeJean Cha told jurors, according to The AP.

Pennington described the attack after he escaped in a 911 call played by Assistant U.S. Attorney Hydee Hawkins.

"They're trying to kill me," Pennington said. "I didn't know what they were going to do. I think it's because I'm gay."

Coffey, the defense attorney for Anthony Jenkins, said his client -- who has an IQ of about 75 -- told the court on Wednesday that Jenkins never formulated a plan to attack or kill Pennington, and called the anti-gay allegations  "the nearest thing to nothing I have ever seen," reported The AP. 

The Jenkins were the first people prosecuted under part of the federal hate crime law that makes it a crime to hurt someone because of their perceived or real sexual orientation. The pair faces life in prison on the kidnapping charges when they are sentenced on Feb. 21, 2013.

In April, Anthony Jenkins’ wife -- Mable Ashley Jenkins, 19 -- and his sister, Alexis LeeAnn Jenkins, also 19 -– pleaded guilty to assisting the kidnapping and assault of Pennington because he is gay, the Justice Department said in a statement.

It was the first federal convictions nationwide for violating the sexual orientation provision of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act. 

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