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Two men accused of beating a gay couple in a case helped solved by social media sleuths will avoid prison time under a plea agreement announced late last week that outraged members of the gay community.
Instead, prosecutors said, Philip Williams and Kevin Harrigan must stay away from downtown Philadelphia for several years, pay just under $1,000 in restitution and perform 200 hours of service at a facility serving the LGBT community.
In a tweet, gay writer and activist Dan Savage called the sentence “appalling.”
Williams, 24, and Harrigan, 26, apologized to the victims and the judge as they pleaded guilty to assault and conspiracy charges in the attack last year that left one victim with a broken jaw and cheekbones. They said the beating wasn’t motivated by the couple’s sexual orientation.
Prosecutors said the victims, Zachary Hesse and Andy Haught, had encouraged a resolution that avoided excessive punishment while sending a positive message about tolerance and understanding. Pennsylvania’s hate crime law does not cover sexual orientation.
“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,” District Attorney Seth Williams said in a statement.
A third defendant, Kathryn Knott, will go to trial.
Prosecutors say Williams and Harrigan, from the suburban communities of Warminster and Warrington, were part of a group that hurled gay slurs and profanity and beat Hesse and Haught near Philadelphia’s ritzy Rittenhouse Square on Sept. 11, 2014.
The case gained attention when police posted a video of the suspects, and online followers used social media sites to help identify them.
“This affected the sense of security for all people in Center City, particularly people who are gay and lesbian,” Assistant District Attorney Michael Barry said. The defendants, he said, damaged Philadelphia’s reputation as a safe, gay friendly city.
The plea deal further tarnished that reputation in the eyes of dozens of Twitter users who sent the district attorney’s office messages of outrage.
One of them, Sam Ritchie of the Innocence Project, wrote: “They didn’t even admit what they did And still they got a slap on the wrist. Shame on you (at)DASethWilliams! (hash)LGBT”.
Banning defendants from a certain part of the city isn’t common, Barry said.
It’s usually employed when defendants don’t have a connection to the area where the crime occurred, he said, like when a dealer sells drugs in a neighborhood far from where he lives.
Williams must stay away from downtown for the five years of his probation. Harrigan cannot return until his three years of probation are completed. Neither objected to the ban, which was also a condition of their bail, Barry said.
They could be granted temporary exemptions to attend necessary appointments, Barry said.
Williams and Harrigan’s whereabouts won’t be subject to electronic monitoring, but many downtown police officers are familiar with the case and know to be on the lookout, Barry said.
“It’s not the easiest thing to enforce,” he said.