Steve Ralls

No Justice in Greenville County

Filed By Steve Ralls | June 11, 2008 4:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: Elke Kennedy, hate crimes against LGBT people, Sean Kennedy, South Carolina

PFLAG has just learned that a judge in Greenville County, elke.jpgSouth Carolina, has sentenced Stephen Moller to just under two-and-a-half years in prison for his role in the murder of Sean Kennedy. Sean was viciously beaten in an anti-gay attack, in 2007, outside of a South Carolina.

Moller, who used a slur before attacking Kennedy, has served almost seven months in jail and was released on bond after the charges against him were downgraded to manslaughter from murder. At today's hearing, a judge sentenced him to five years in prison... but reduced that to three years, with an additional seven months counted as "time served."

"Without... hate crime legislation, there was no legal precedent for a stiffer charge," WYFF reported this afternoon.

That means that for attacking a gay man Moller will now serve just 2 years, 5 months behind bars. And that should be a wake-up call to every parent and, indeed, every American.

Sean's mother, Elke Kennedy (pictured), has been a tireless advocate for hate crimes legislation - both at the federal level and in South Carolina - and recently established Sean's Last Wish to educate lawmakers and the public about hate crimes and the need to pass such legislation. (You can see Elke's interview with filmmakers during Saturday's PFLAG demonstration in Orlando here.)

But Elke can't do it alone. And today's sentencing in South Carolina should be a rallying cry for those who believe that that 29 months for the murder of a 20-year old man is outrageous and unacceptable. Because while there was no justice in Greenville County today, we can join Elke in working to ensure that no other family has to relive their story.

Visit Sean's Last Wish online for more information on Sean's story, and Elke's crusade to honor her son's memory. Then, contact your elected officials and demand passage of a comprehensive hate crimes law now.

Originally posted at the PFLAG National Blog.

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I'm totally in favor of hate crime legislation, but I wonder if this really is the best example of such. It seems that the death really was accidental (manslaughter) rather than intentional (murder), and there's no clear and undeniable evidence that the anti-gay slurs were anything other than run-of-the-mill thug talk. I'm not intimately familiar with the details of the case, but there have been much more clear-cut examples of hate crime in states lacking the legislation.

I hope my comment doesn't come across as unsympathetic to the family of Kennedy. The foundation website seems to be down at the moment, but I hope to make a donation when I can access it.

Melanie Davis | June 11, 2008 5:50 PM

As a mom, my heart goes out to Mrs. Kennedy. The worst fear of any parent has been visited upon her, and her activism in the wake of tragedy shows a strength I don't think many share.

It's not even without specific hate crimes legislation that justice was under served. The judge decreased the sentence and the prosecutors decreased the charge on a plea agreement. A plea agreement? Really? Did he turn State's witness on some other bashers? WTF plea agreement? Were they without sufficient evidence to prosecute him? I can understand that the punch led to his death, but technically was not, itself, lethal. For that, it is understandable that the charge is manslaughter, but there is still no reason to decrease the sentence by half. No, it's not just hate crimes legislation, that just forces the reluctant hand of a system that doesn't care. The judge and the prosecutor are both at fault for letting this guy off.

It's clear that Mr. Moller has no remourse for killing Mr. Kennedy from his "apology" where he basically blamed the bars for serving alcohol, taking no responsibility for himself whatsoever. May karma catch up with him in prison.

Thanks for alerting us to this, Steve. I grew up in South Carolina and went to high school for two years in Greenville. It's an incredibly bizarre place -- on the one hand sort of hippy and artist collectivey and on the other hand incredibly, vehemently conservative (e.g. Bob Jones University). On the weekends we'd go downtown and get handed a zine on one side of the street and a Bible tract on the other. Can't say I'm surprised this happened in Greenville County but I'm glad it's getting visibility.

Popping a guy in the jaw once, with guy getting fatal heart attack - that's manslaughter.

Beating the crap out of someone, with repeated blows to head and chest, abdomen - that's murder. Maybe second-degree, but still murder.

You don't need to show that race or religion or whatever else is in hate crimes law is part of the intent, just that there is intent, for murder charge. A reasonable person would conclude that beating the crap out of someone could kill, and therefore doing so would be murder and not manslaughter.

It may well be that the Greenville area juror pool has a large enough number of people who think that gay folks should be killed without serious penalty. Or it may be that the DA thinks that way.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 11, 2008 11:57 PM

Hate crime, yes. How about school funding for teaching tolerance toward others? If the same thing had happened to a politician's son this leniency would not have occurred. Those special entitled people among us are more valuable than we mere "little people."

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 12, 2008 4:45 AM

Before anyone describes this as manslaughter keep it mind two things.

The police warrant issued in the case stated that the act was "a result of the defendant (Moller) not liking the sexual identity of the victim." Secondly, most of the bones in Sean Kennedys face were broken and his brainstem was detached from its surrounding tissue. If the DA thinks that's manslaughter then the DA is incompetent and abetting bigotry.

The best way to end these murders is by calling for the harshest possible sentences for the thugs and aggressively suing their families and churches for compensation.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 12, 2008 5:32 AM

These murders always increase during elections. (The NCAVP says that the figure for hate murders jumped from 10 in 2006 to 24 in 2007.)

There was no Federal hate crimes bill when Sean Kennedy ( April 8, 1987 – May 16, 2007 )was murdered or later when Lawrence King (January 13, 1993 - February 12, 2008) and others were bludgeoned, stabbed and gunned down in a spate of murders last February. There won’t be one for some time. That is solely the fault of the Democrats who junked the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes bill AFTER it’d passed both house of Congress.

They also tossed out ENDA after Barney Frank gutted it just to get more ‘contributions’ from money grubbing bigoted business owners. And they refused to repeal DOMA and DADT? And they called us second class citizens by opposing same sex marriage. The Republicans weren’t in control of Congress when this was going on but they didn’t need to be. The Democrats did all the Republicans could have hoped for and then some.

That explains why, as Robert Reich says,

“The largest party in America, by the way, is neither the Democrats nor the Republicans. It's the party of non-voters. “

And it explains why Gore Vidal gets enormous applause then he says

“[t]here is only one party in the United States, the Property Party...and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt - until recently... and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties."

But it doesn’t explain where they get the gall to ask us for our votes.

I wholeheartedly agree with you, Bill. However the lack of legislation doesn't explain how any judge in the position of administering justice can in good consciousness administer such a light sentence for the death of another individual, in my opinion. What Greenville County, South Carolina needs is a good old fashioned demonstration in the form of angry marching gays to show we're shouldn't be taken as lightly as the "justice" administered to those who seek to harm us.

I had the honor to meet Elke Kennedy and her husband in Charlotte at a meeting that took place on the day of the HRC dinner. I could not help to cry when she got up to speak. Her words have echoed through our community over the years, from other parents who lost their LGBT child through hate. The other thing that hit home even more is the fact that I was born in South Carolina.

One can only hope that the LLEEA (Hate Crimes Bill) will pass Congress and signed by the new President. Let's fight to ensure it covers all of us. Thank you.

Steve Ralls Steve Ralls | June 12, 2008 8:59 AM

Elke Kennedy, Sean's mother, held a press conference after the hearing. Here is her statement:

I want to thank you all for being here today. You have followed the story since Sean's violent murder last year and I appreciate it.

There was no justice today for my son Sean.

The sentence that Stephen Moeller received is a joke and a slap on the wrist.

Once again it proves that in the state of SC there is no justice for the victim, especially for a victim of a senseless, violent, bias motivated crime.

I understand that the judge had to sentence according to the plea agreement and the existing restrictions in the law, but that does not make this any easier!

Our judicial system is a joke and it is trying to make you believe that it is there to assure justice. Decisions are made by the solicitor instead of judges and jury's.

Like in Sean's case, nobody will ever hear the evidence and all the facts like the voice mail because it was plea bargained by the solicitor, who has only met with me on time almost 10 month ago.

In essence when the solicitor plea bargains any case, are they not really working for the defendant instead of the victim? Most pleas benefit only the defendant because it results in a lesser charge.

In fact, I believe that Sean's case has been mishandled from the beginning.

Getting the investigation started - we had to initiate the securing of evidence -sheriffs deputies did not take it serious.

Our Solicitors got a lot of pressure about the case, received weekly phone calls from our SC Senators from Washington and from Congressman Inglis himself.

Do any of you know of another local case that our Senators and Congressman would be that interested in? I don't!

Furthermore, our officials have known about the 25 year gap in our laws and have not done anything about it! When asked why there was this gap I was told that nobody had ever complained.

Well this mother has and will continue to do so.

Bob Arial stated last October that involuntary manslaughter charge and the maximum time with that is not enough in the case of Sean's murder, but that is all they could do according to the existing law!

Our solicitor invited me to help him change these laws - Mr. Arial - I am here, I am willing and I demand that we change these laws.

So moving forward we must identify the gaps, educate the public and we must demand all inclusive laws in our state that will protect all human beings.

We need to be able to identify bias motivated crimes and be able to report them.

Remember, this is an election year - you can make a difference!

My son was violently murdered because of hate and as his mother I wanted justice. This could have happened to anybodies son, daughter, brother, sister, etc.

My family will never be the same, a big part of our lives has been ripped out of our hearts and we are all struggling through birthdays', holiday's, etc.

"No mother should ever have to bury her child, No mother should ever have to lose her child to violence and hate, No mother should ever have to fight to see justice for her child!"

A travesty of justice. Why doesn't the LGBT community riot anymore? A queer riot in the Carolinas would definitely be a wake up call to straight America.

During every election cycle where LGBT rights is an issue, the rate of LGBT casualties increases geometricaly. We bleed and we die, while the right wing chuckles and uses our blood to buy votes. Hating us keeps the base going to the polls.

The right does not bleed, does not die at our hands. The victims are all on our side.

The political handling of ENDA was a travesty, but the killing of the Hate Crimes Act was a monstrosity committed by our own so called allies.

Someone needs to keep a running casuality count of the dead from this election cycle, as we seem to have a collectively short attention span.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 12, 2008 2:29 PM

I like your attitude Bil, but I like LeslieK's suggestion even more. We do need massive, clenched fist militant demonstrations and rallies when scum like Moller go on the rampage. Mobilizing ourselves goes a long way towards isolating bigots. Plus it puts cops, judges and DA’s on notice that we’re not going to back down.

Creating that kind of political climate is an essential pre-condition for efforts to create acceptance. Relying on the feeble efforts of school bureaucracies to tame bigots is like asking a baboon to play nice – the only thing you'll have to show for your efforts is a nasty bite.

The problem is that it's not so easy to organize in small towns and rural areas. That’s one more reason we need to create an activist based, left wing, nationwide GLBT alliance. The work of building such a group is vastly more important than waiting for some implausible knight in shining armor to invite us to dinner at the Round Table in the White House. Clinton was the last rerun of the Camelot silliness and all we got from him was DOMA and DADT and a pat on the head for being such good little voters.

History has lots of lessons for those determined to avoid repeating mistakes.

No legal precedent for a stiffer penalty? This was MURDER, if not first degree, certainly second. Surely people have committed murder before in South Carolina, been convicted, and have been sentenced to life without parole, 99 years, or some other such appropriate punishment. Moeller was treated as if he could be rehabilitated, but incarceration of murderers isn't for purpose of rehab, it is for the purpose of protecting society from the rabid dogs who cannot function without killing again. The judge and DA in this case should be investigated, they had to have been bribed or threatened.

Moeller might have been sentenced to manslaughter, might have been claiming it was alcohol-fueled, but when you kill someone with your own hand while expressing openly your hatred for their very being, that, as far as I am concerned, is murder. Nobody forced Moeller to drink alcohol, it was his own choice, and alcohol brings out a person's real feelings.

The judge and DA should be thrown out of office on their butts for this travesty. Lack of a hate crime bill does not excuse murder.

I'm completely expecting that this cretin Moeller will get out of jail after a few more months, will get back into the real world, and do the very same thing over again. He got away with murder, after all, and he's probably laughing about it. Not to mention the others who've read of the case, see that he got away with murder, and figure it's open season. If I was forced to live in South Carolina I'd carry a weapon. I completely expect that Moeller will kill again.