Prison Inmates in Anti-Gay Assault Get Plea Agreements
Two federal inmates have been offered plea agreements for their alleged assault of openly gay inmate Kenneth J. Houck Jr. at the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia.
But details of the plea agreements offered to Justin O’Brien and Kevin Hannig remained unavailable at presstime.
O’Brien and Hannig allegedly entered Houck’s detention-center cell on Nov. 10, 2011, pulled Houck from his bunk and stomped on him, breaking his leg.
The defendants allegedly hurled anti-LGBT epithets at Houck during the incident, but they weren’t charged with a hate crime.
Instead, they were charged with causing serious bodily harm to another individual and aiding and abetting, and face an additional 10 years in federal lockup.
Patty Hartman, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, declined to comment about the proposed plea agreements.
“Department of Justice policy prohibits discussion of matters not in the public record,” Hartman said in an email.
O’Brien indicated a willingness to accept the government’s offer.
He also has pleaded guilty to robbing three banks, and he’s prepared to receive a “unified sentence” that encompasses his guilty pleas for the bank robberies and unrelated assault of Houck.
But the court hadn’t agreed to consolidate the two cases at presstime.
Hannig has declined to accept a plea agreement proposed by the government for his alleged assault of Houck, according to court records.
At a March 18 court proceeding, Hannig indicated to U.S. District Judge William H. Yohn Jr. that he wants a jury trial in the Houck matter.
Hannig also indicated that he wanted a new attorney for reasons that weren’t elaborated upon during the public portion of the proceeding.
Yohn said he would appoint a new attorney for Hannig shortly.
The judge also told Hannig that he’ll get a jury trial in the Houck matter after his new attorney becomes familiar with the case.
Hannig’s former attorney, W. Christopher Montoya, declined to comment for this story.
David Cooper, an advocate for Houck, expressed concern to PGN about Houck’s lack of involvement in the plea-agreement negotiations.
“To my knowledge, no one has consulted with Kenneth prior to the government offering plea bargains to the defendants,” Cooper said.
Houck should be permitted to give a victim-impact statement before O’Brien is sentenced for the assault, Cooper added.
He expressed concern that Assistant U.S. Attorney Neuman Leverett 3d hasn’t conferred sufficiently with Houck.
Leverett is prosecuting O’Brien and Hannig for the alleged assault of Houck.
“In order to make any kind of informed decision about offering plea deals, you have to have the facts,” Cooper continued. “If you haven’t even spoken to the person who’s the victim of the crime, then you don’t have all the facts.”
Cooper also said Houck should be called as a witness in Hannig’s upcoming trial, which hasn’t yet been scheduled.
“How can the government vigorously prosecute this case if Kenneth Houck isn’t treated as a critical component of the prosecution?” Cooper posed.
Leverett declined to comment for this story.
O’Brien’s sentencing for the bank robberies and assault on Houck was scheduled for March 21 before U.S. District Judge Jan E. Dubois, but the sentencing is expected to be postponed.
Janis Smarro, an attorney for O’Brien, couldn’t be reached for comment.
O’Brien and Hannig remain incarcerated at the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia.
At the time of Houck’s assault, O’Brien was in the detention center awaiting a jury trial for the three bank robberies he allegedly committed.
Hannig was in the detention center for an offense stemming from an unrelated bank robbery.
Houck was in the detention center awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to one count of transporting child pornography.
In February 2012, U.S. District Judge Gregory M. Sleet sentenced Houck to 97 months in prison to be followed by five years of supervised release.
Houck’s projected release date is March 3, 2018, if he doesn’t commit any infractions while in custody.
Cooper said Houck continues to recover from his injuries at the Federal Detention Center in Butner, N.C.
From our media partners Philadelphia Gay News