The killing of a gay man in Kentucky has prompted activists and some legislators to call for strengthening the state’s hate crimes law, says the Louisville Courier-Journal. Josh Cottrell, 22, is being held on $500,000 bond on charges of murdering and robbing Guinn “Richie” Phillips, whose body was stuffed into a suitcase and dumped in a lake.
Three of Cottrell’s relatives told investigators Cottrell told them he invited Phillips to his motel room June 17 to kill him because Phillips was gay. Phillips, 36, was strangled or suffocated.
“Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people in Kentucky, they are saying to themselves, `There is no difference between him and me. I could be a victim of that kind of crime just as easily as he was,'” said Andrea Hildebran of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance. In the weeks since the killing, Hildebran said, gays, lesbians and others have done “a lot of talking” about the need for Kentucky to strengthen its 3-year-old hate crimes law.
Advocates say that committing a hate crime should be a separate offense with a tougher sentence. Even in cases of murder, they say, a separate offense when the victim is chosen because of race or sexual preference would send a message that the state will not tolerate having people feel vulnerable. Committing crimes against someone because of their race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation has been a violation of Kentucky law since 2000. The law does not apply to murder, and it carries only minor sanctions in cases in which it does apply. The Anti-Defamation League says that 29 state hate crime laws include sexual orientation.
Kentucky’s law can be used only by a judge at sentencing to refuse motions for early release, so-called shock probation, or to deny parole or bail. It cannot be used to give a longer sentence or to increase the severity of a charge, and it is not considered an “aggravating factor” that can make a murder charge a capital offense.
In 2000, the most recent year for which records are available, 73 hate crimes were reported to police agencies around Kentucky. Of those, 56 involved victims targeted because of their race, and nine because of their sexual orientation. Most of the offenses were intimidation, vandalism and aggravated assault.
Gay activists say crimes whose victims were chosen because of their sexual orientation go largely unreported. “For a gay or lesbian person to report a hate crime, it means basically coming out in your community,” Hildebran said. “That can be risky, especially if you were just a victim of crime because someone thought you were gay.”