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The LGBT Hate Crimes Project: Matthew Ashcraft

This entry is part 23 of 53 in the series lgbt hate crimes project

Matthew Ashcraft was he victim of an anti-gay hate crime. But Matthew Ashcraft is not gay.

How can that be? How can a heterosexual male be the victim of an anti-gay hate crime? Well, as the text of the hate crimes act now awaiting Bush’s signature or veto makes clear, it’s a matter of perception. A hate crime is a crime of violence, that constitutes a felony under state, local, or tribal laws, and

… is motivated by prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim, or is a violation of the State, local, or Tribal hate crime laws.

It’s worth noting that, as written, the hate crime act would also protect heterosexuals who are targeted for violent crime because they are heterosexual. But as far as Matthew Ashcraft’s attacker knew, Ashcraft was gay.

Why?

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Because Matthew Ashcraft came upon a gay-bashing-in-progress, and did something about it. And why would anyone come to the defense of a “faggot” unless he was a “faggot himself” Right? I mean, why else would a 19-year-old National Guardsman stop or even care if two men were beating up a “faggot” who wasn’t doing anything except taking a dog for a walk? And why would he jump on the back of one of the attackers and pin him to the ground? And when the basher came back with a baseball bat to attack the “faggot” who attacked him, why would witnesses shield Ashcraft with their own bodies after a blow from the bat knocked him unconscious?

Are “good Samaritans” gay? As far as the guy swinging the bat was concerned, Matthew Ashcraft might as well have been.

Matthew Ashcraft, 19, was attacked outside of a gay bar in Newton, Kentucky, in June 2004. Ashcraft – an Ohio National Guardsman who is not gay – came to the aid of of Leon Hughes, a gay man who was being beaten outside the bar.

Background

Matthew Ashcraft (left) and law enforcement officers.Ashcraft and two gay friends of his were on their way to Woolly’s on Monmouth an LGBT friendly bar, at about 10:30 p.m. on July 26, 2004, when they saw Leon Hughes – a gay man – being harassed by Steven Ard.1)

Ard had been drinking at Taylor’s Landing, a bar adjacent to Woolly’s, and began yelling anti-gay slurs at Hughes upon seeing him exit Woolly’s.2) Hughes told reporters that upon exiting the bar, two men came towards him from Taylor’s Landing.3) One of them – Ard – yelled at Hughes, “Come here, faggot! Why don’t you and your little faggot dog come here?”4) Hughes had exited the club to walk Maggie, the bar’s golden retriever.5)

When Ard punched Hughes in the ribs6), Ashcraft jumped on Ard and pinned him to the ground.

The Attack

Bar patrons called police as the fight moved across the street, to the Taylor’s Landing parking lot. The fight seemed over when the attackers ran away.7) But Ard returned with a baseball bat, ran up to Ashcraft screaming “You faggots! I’m gonna kill you faggots!”, and struck Ashcraft on the back of his skull with the bat.8) Ashcraft fell to the ground, and witnesses shielded him with their own bodies until police arrived.

Ard said that Ashcraft and friends had chased him to his home, and he used the bat to defend himself.9)

The police arrived to find Ashcraft unconscious on the ground. Officer Greg Ripperberg saw Ard running towards his Dayton Street residence with a bat in hand.10) Officers found Ard inside home, hiding under collection of sheets and blankets.11)

Medics reported that Ashcraft began vomiting and convulsing on the way to University Hospital in Cincinnati. He was being prepped for surgery as medics left the scene.12) Ashcraft was rushed to University Hospital in Cincinnati, where he was treated for skull fracture, cranial bleeding, and a blood clot on his brain.

The Aftermath

Community response

Ashcraft was uninsured, and his medical bills topped $29,000. A fund was set up at U.S. Bank in Newport to help with medical expenses.13) A benefit for Ascraft was held at Woolly’s, on July 7, 2004, where about $200 was raised to help with his medical bills. Ashcraft attended, but became ill during the benefit and had to be taken to the hospital. Woolly’s owner Rick Petri said he planned to host more benefits. Another bar owner, Carl Fox, reported receiving a death threat in the mail after speaking in favor of gay rights on television.14) Ashcraft suffered paralyzing headaches following the attack and was discharged from the National Guard, but hoped to re-enlist in one year.

Pleas & Sentencing

On June 8, 2004, Ard appeared in court and waived a preliminary hearing in favor of a grand jury hearing on felony charges of first degree assault. Judge Karen Thomas raise Ard’s bond to $50,000 from the $20,000 requested by prosecutors.

Officer Ripberger spoke at the hearing, and told Judge Thomas that he considered the assault a hate crime. Under Kentucky law, that means the possibility of parole is removed during the sentencing phase. The Kentucky law includes crimes based on sexual orientation, even though Ashcraft is not gay.15)

On September 9, 2004, Ard entered a plea of not guilty to the charge of first degree assault.

On January 5, 2005, when his trial opened, Ard pleaded guilty to second degree assault. Prosecutors dropped the original first degree assault charge and recommended a 15 year sentence. The change from the original charge meant that Ard would have to serve 20% of his sentence before being eligible for parole, instead of 85%.16)

On February 4, 2005, Ard attempted to withdraw his earlier guilty pleas and plea agreement. Judge Leonard Kopowski rejected Ard’s request and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.17)

Series NavigationThe LGBT Hate Crimes Project: State of the ProjectThe LGBT Hate Crimes Project: Nick Moraida

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