Thursday, June 12, 2008

Just three years? That's some bull@*&$

Hate crime or not, this fool deserves to serve more than just three years:

The Taylors teenager who threw a single, fatal punch at Sean Kennedy outside an Eastside bar was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison after an impassioned argument about the role Kennedy’s sexual orientation may have played.

Stephen Andrew Moller pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, admitting he punched 20-year-old Kennedy in the face in the parking lot of the former Brew’s Pub on Pelham Road in May 2007 after a night of drinking.

Kennedy’s head hit the pavement, causing fatal brain damage.

Moller, who turns 20 on Friday, originally was charged with murder and faced the possibility of life in prison until Greenville County’s chief prosecutor offered the alternate involuntary manslaughter charge after a grand jury found "no malicious intent." The lesser charges carry a maximum sentence of five years.

In the year since Kennedy’s death, his mother, Elke Kennedy, has decried her son’s killing as a hate crime. Shortly after the death, a warrant alleged that the assault was motivated by the fact that Kennedy was gay.

However, in court Wednesday, prosecutor Mark Moyer read a statement Moller gave to an investigator in which he said he didn’t know Kennedy was gay until after he punched him and that he hit him because he was angry that Kennedy had inadvertently brushed his face with his hand.

No evidence was presented during the hearing that Moller acknowledged Kennedy’s homosexuality before the attack.

Shortly after Moller hit Kennedy, Moller called a girl that Kennedy was with outside the bar and left a voice message mixed with laughter, profanity and anti-homosexual epithets bragging about the assault, Moyer said.

The prosecutor read a transcript of the message in court, which Kennedy’s mother pleaded unsuccessfully with the judge to listen to the actual recording before sentencing Moller.

In his statement to the investigator, Moller said that he was sitting in the back seat of a car reaching to turn the radio station as Kennedy reached in with a cigarette and inadvertently brushed his face with his hand. Moyer said the car with Moller had driven over to some girls and that Kennedy came up and hugged one of the girls.

Moller’s attorney, Ryan Beasley, told Circuit Judge Ned Miller that Moller didn’t realize that Kennedy was gay until the driver of the car saw a bleeding cut on Moller’s hand and told him.

"You know that dude is gay," the driver said, according to Moller’s statement. "What are you going to do if you have AIDS now?"

"Everybody thought that this was maybe a hate crime, but it was not," Beasley told the judge. "Stephen had no idea that he was gay until afterwards."

Beasley called the killing a "tragic and freak incident with devastating results" and offered another possible explanation for the brain damage Kennedy suffered, telling the judge that a friend of Kennedy’s, who was drunk, dropped him after trying to lift him up.

"Oh, please!" a member of the crowd of Kennedy’s family and friends present in the courtroom said in response.

Before sentencing, Moller turned to apologize to Kennedy’s family.

"I live with it every day," Moller told the family. "I wish it had never happened. I never thought this would happen. I’m sorry."

In October, Thirteenth Circuit Solicitor Bob Ariail said that his office prepared the alternate charge of involuntary manslaughter after "realizing the possibility of no indictment on the murder charge ... would result in Moller’s release." Ariail said that while the charge would result in an inadequate punishment, it was the only charge that applied to the case.

Moller was later released on bond.

Judge Miller said that "the easy thing to do would be to give him five years and move on," but that he wanted to try to rehabilitate Moller with three years of probation after the sentence is served. Miller also ordered Moller to undergo anger management and substance abuse counseling, submit to random drug tests and perform 30 days of public service.

Miller gave Moller credit for the seven months he served in jail before he was released on bond in November.

Beasley told the judge that during his release Moller has been working and supporting a 9-month-old daughter.

Beasley told the judge that a prison sentence would "only hurt him" and that "there are some bad people in that place, and he’s going to be exposed to things he’s never seen."

Moller’s uncle, Steve Moller, spoke on his nephew’s behalf and said that "we wouldn’t be here today" if alcohol wasn’t involved, and he asked Kennedy’s family to work together with him to help curb underage drinking.