The following was posted in Pink News:
The following article was posted to Digital Journal on August 14, 2014.
ATLANTA, Aug. 14, 2014
Victim of Anti-Gay Hate Crime Luke O’Donovan of Atlanta Sentenced to 10 Years for Self-Defense
Family and Friends Rally in Support while Attackers Remain Free
ATLANTA, Aug. 14, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The following is being released by The Luke O’Donovan Support Committee:
Luke O’Donovan, survivor of a homophobic attack in Atlanta, GA, was sentenced to prison on August 12 through a negotiated plea deal that he accepted in order to avoid decades in prison, simply for defending himself from a violent attack.
After leaving a New Year’s Eve party on December 31, 2012, witnesses say O’Donovan, a 21-year-old student at Georgia Gwinnett College, was attacked and beaten by at least five men who yelled homophobic slurs during the fight. O’Donovan defended himself with a pocketknife and managed to escape. He was later treated at Atlanta Medical Center for stab wounds and injuries to his head and body. Witnesses report seeing between five and 12 men gang up on O’Donovan, stomping on his head and body, and stabbing him in the back while calling him a “f*gg*t.”
Police arrested O’Donovan within the hour while he was receiving treatment for his injuries. He was charged with five counts of felony aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, to which one count of attempted murder was later added. O’Donovan faced up to 110 years in prison if convicted.
Four of O’Donovan’s attackers also required treatment at the hospital. Others remained on the scene of the fight to give statements to the police. None were charged for their role. From the outset, the facts of the case were biased by the mob nature of the attack and the complicity of some onlookers. The resulting demonization of O’Donovan’s actions fits into a growing trend of criminalizing those who successfully defend themselves from hate crimes.
O’Donovan’s defense team was able to negotiate the 10-year sentence after video footage surfaced of one of O’Donovan’s assailants participating in an attack of a transgender woman on July 3. O’Donovan will serve two years of the sentence in Georgia state prison and the remaining eight years on strictly supervised probation.
The arduous court proceedings have shown the court and the presiding judge to be biased and homophobic. During O’Donovan’s July 1 immunity hearing Judge Markle allowed the prosecution to use bigoted language in open court, asking every witness if the term “f*gg*t” was offensive or just a synonym for other “non-offensive” terms like “p*ssies,” “b*tches,” or “n*gg*r.” In his comments before sentencing, Judge Markle stated that the 10- year sentence is much too lenient, and despite agreeing to the plea negotiated by the Defense and the Prosecution, Judge Markle added an arcane, punitive stipulation effectively “banishing” O’Donovan from the state of Georgia during the eight years of his probation.
Homophobic and transphobic attacks in Atlanta are increasing in prevalence. Earlier this summer in Atlanta, a group of men accosted, beat, and stripped two trans women nude on a MARTA train. This came only one month before the videotaped assault of a transgender woman near to where O’Donovan was attacked.
O’Donovan’s support team are asking Judge Markle to remove the criminal banishment from Luke’s probationary conditions. Supporters can contact Judge Markle directly and send letters and books to Luke O’Donovan throughout his sentence.
For more information, go to: https://letlukego.wordpress.com.
SOURCE The Luke O’Donovan Support Committee
Luke O’Donovan receives 10-year sentence – and ‘banishment’ – for NYE altercation
The following article was posted to Creative Loafing on August 15, 2014.
Posted by Thomas Wheatley
Supporters of a man who says he was defending himself during an alleged homophobic attack at a New Year’s Eve party are asking a judge to revisit the terms of a 10-year prison sentence he agreed to as part of a plea deal he struck with prosecutors on Tuesday.
According to an Atlanta Police report, sometime after revelers rang in 2013, Luke O’Donovan was involved in an altercation at a Reynoldstown party with five to 12 people over “sexuality.” Supporters say the Georgia Gwinnett College student defended himself with a pocketknife after he was called homophobic slurs and attacked. According to the APD report, witnesses claimed that people who were later cut or stabbed by O’Donovan tried to “stop” him. O’Donovan then left the party to receive medical treatment at Atlanta Medical Center for stab wounds sustained during the attack, his supporters say. He was charged several hours later with five counts of felony aggravated assault and later charged with attempted murder.
The Luke O’Donovan Support Committee, which claims it includes O’Donovan’s friends, family, roommates, and others, is categorizing what happened to the 21 year old as a hate crime.
“Witnesses report seeing between five and 12 men attacking O’Donovan, stomping on his head and body, and stabbing him in the back while calling him a ‘faggot,'” the committee said in a statement today.
“The facts of this case were clearly biased due to the group nature of the attack and the complicity of some onlookers,” the statement says. “The demonization of O’Donovan’s actions is apart [sic] of a growing trend: criminalizing those who successfully defend themselves from hate crimes.”
The committee says Judge Todd Markle, who oversaw the case, and the court are homophobic for allowing the prosecution to use “bigoted language” in open court, “asking every witness if the term “faggot” was offensive or just a synonym for other “non-offensive” terms like “pussies,” “bitches,” or “nigger.” (Markle was not immediately available for comment on Friday. We’ll update if we hear back.)
A statement issued by O’Donovan after his sentencing, was posted on the group’s website:
My name is Luke O’Donovan. In the early morning of January 1st, 2013, I was attacked by a group of men at a party because of my sexuality. In an attempt to defend myself from the attack I thought could end my life I stabbed 5 of them, while also being stabbed 3 times myself. It is regrettable that anyone had to come to harm, but given the choice of whether to lose my life to a hateful attack or fight for the chance to live, I will always choose the ferocious refusal to go quietly into the night. This refusal was not fueled by hate for my attackers, but by my love for life. It is this passion for life that came in conflict with my attackers, and this same passion that was arrested by the cops and is being punished by the courts. It is this passion that they are trying to chain, to cage, to rehabilitate me away from, but it is this passion that will pull my gaze — always forward — through the dark. I can already glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel. I’ll be home soon.
According to reports, O’Donovan will serve two years in prison and eight years on probation. Just before reading O’Donovan’s sentence, the support committee says, Markle added a punishment: banishment from all of Georgia except for Screven County while he serves on probation. The archaic practice basically exiles a person from a certain place. Georgia is one of more than 10 states where the punishment is allowed in some form.
The committee wants the judge to toss out the criminal banishment while O’Donovan is on probation.
Queeresist held a demonstration through The Hague in solidarity with Luke. They released this statement:
The United States government has a shameful record of turning a blind eye to violence against queer and trans people, while mercilessly locking up any queer or trans people who dare to defend themselves. Just at the beginning of this year, CeCe McDonald was released from a men’s prison in the United States; she had been sentenced to 41 months for defending herself from a racist and transphobic attack, and hers is only one case of many.
We are taking to the streets to spread word about Luke’s case in particular and the problem of homophobic and transphobic violence, with state complicity, in general. We are calling for all the charges against Luke O’Donovan to be dropped. We also want to send him a message of support and show our support for self-defense against homophobic and transphobic attacks.
The demonstration started at the Koekamp, went on a route through the center of The Hague, and ended in front of the US Embassy.
The following article was posted to Vice News on August 13, 2014.
Prison and Exile for Luke O’Donovan: A Price of Fighting Back Against Gay Bashers
Exile is not a punishment commonly doled out by the contemporary US justice system. Cages, not banishment, have long been the order of the day.
Not so for Luke O’Donovan. A 21-year-old queer anarchist living in Atlanta, O’Donovan learned on Monday that he will spend the next two years in a Georgia prison, and then the following eight years on probation in what can only be described as exile. While his sentence — which I will expand upon later — is peculiar, the ordeal that led to his receiving it is sadly too common.
O’Donovan was the victim of a homophobic attack by a group of men on New Year’s Eve. Having seen the young man dancing with and kissing other men at a party, a group of men numbering between five to 12 hurled homophobic slurs at O’Donovan and physically attacked him. According to his supporters, a number of witnesses saw members of the group stamp on O’Donovan’s head. O’Donovan himself released a statement Monday saying, “In an attempt to defend myself from the attack I thought could end my life I stabbed five of them, while also being stabbed three times myself.” One man required surgery following the fight, and no injuries were fatal. Only O’Donovan was charged — five counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Facing up to a 110-year sentence if convicted by a jury, O’Donovan agreed to a plea deal Monday. He is far from alone in foregoing a trial by jury in fear of decades behind bars if found guilty. Approximately 95 percent of all criminal cases in this country end in plea deals. Prosecutorial overreach and aggressive minimum sentencing laws mean our legal system is structured to coerce admissions of guilt. “We understand Luke’s acceptance of the plea deal and his admission of guilt as the direct result of coercion by the State,” noted a statement from O’Donovan’s supporters.
As I see it, his case is the latest in a series in which LGBTQ individuals have been heavily punished by the legal system for daring to defend themselves in the face of discriminatory violence and abuse. Like CeCe McDonald, the trans woman who was jailed for fatally stabbing a man during a vicious transphobic attack on her and her friends, O’Donovan faced charges while his aggressors were deemed “victims.” In July, a judge denied O’Donovan immunity from his charges on self-defense grounds.
To shed some light on where the sympathies of the Atlanta court seemed to lie, the sentencing hearing on Monday included testimonies from the mothers of the men who attacked O’Donovan. Judge Todd Markle told O’Donovan outright that he would have liked to put him in prison for more time than the plea deal entails. The prosecution argued that the word “faggot” was as “non-offensive” as teasingly calling someone a baby.
To be clear, I write here in support of O’Donovan. If you smell a whiff of bias in my depiction of this case, I haven’t gone far enough: There should be a stench of anger at a system that defends queer bashers and punishes their victims. George Zimmerman claimed self-defense in shooting dead unarmed teen Trayvon Martin and was found “not guilty.” O’Donovan, himself stabbed three times, is imprisoned and sentenced to exile.
The exile stipulation in the sentence is unusual, and points again to Judge Markle’s desire to extract as much punishment as possible for O’Donovan out of the plea deal. Specifically, the stipulation demands that after he leaves prison, during O’Donovan’s eight years of probation he is banned from the state of Georgia except for one county, Screven. Since an individual on probation is also not permitted to leave the state in which he or she is sentenced, O’Donovan is effectively banished from everywhere in the world for eight years except Screven County — which, by the way, has a population of just over 15,000 and boasts “small town living.” The nearest cities, Savannah and Augusta, are 60 miles away and are outside the space O’Donovan in which will be permitted to exist.
Banishment laws, archaic as they seem, are on the books only in Georgia, Tennessee, and in Washington, D.C. Some legal scholars have described such punishment as cruel and unusual. On the whole, banishment is reserved for sex offenders, or deployed in efforts to keep gang members away from their bases. The decision to remove O’Donovan from his community for years after he serves prison time smacks of cruelty. Tellingly, the judge added the exile stipulation to the deal O’Donovan and the prosecutors had reached. To use a grimly appropriate idiom, the probation condition twists the knife in O’Donovan’s wounds.
Within months of videos emerging online showing two separate incidents in Atlanta of trans women being brutally beaten — stomped on, punched, and stripped — O’Donovan’s sentencing sends an insidious and troubling message to victims of queer and trans bashing — namely, don’t fight back. It is a message deserving of firm and collective rejection.
Even facing prison and exile, O’Donovan again asserted the importance of fighting back. In a post-sentencing statement he wrote: “It is regrettable that anyone had to come to harm, but given the choice of whether to lose my life to a hateful attack or fight for the chance to live, I will always choose the ferocious refusal to go quietly into the night.”
Since the institutions of justice align with homophobia and transphobia, the fight to end this violence also entails a fight against this justice system, this prison system; in short, the state.
Follow Natasha Lennard on Twitter: @natashalennard
Today, Luke accepted a negotiated non-cooperating plea deal and was sentenced to two years in prison and eight years of probation. As a last minute addition to this plea deal, Judge Markle added that Luke was to be banned from the state of Georgia, save one county, for the duration of his probation. Luke was taken away from us to prison immediately after court.
This end to the case surprised many of us. It was only two weeks ago that we were alerted to the fact that Luke’s trial would begin this soon. After that notice, events continued to unfold rapidly and chaotically. The prosecution officially offered Luke this plea deal last Thursday. Luke was placed in a very difficult position, facing decades in prison if convicted by a jury. He decided not to risk such a long sentence, but rather to accept the manageable sentence of two years in prison, and eight years of probation.
For those who are unfamiliar with plea deals, the conditions of a plea are negotiated between the prosecution and the defense prior to court. The judge is expected to sentence the defendant according to those agreed upon conditions, but has the ability to alter that sentence once the defendant has entered a guilty plea. If the judge’s sentence is different from the agreed upon conditions, the defendant then has the opportunity to change his plea and take the case to trial.
When Luke and more than fifty of his supporters entered court together this morning, we expected Luke to be taken away on the negotiated conditions. The prosecution began with an articulation of the incident from their point of view, which included equating the word “faggot” with the “non-offensive” sentiment “babies”, and painting Luke as a malevolent aggressor. Following this, Luke’s attackers and their family members were given time to speak. Three of the attackers spoke extensively about their medical conditions following the New Year’s incident. Their mothers then went on the stand to appeal to the judge for a harsher sentence. Throughout, the prosecution indignantly dismissed the portrayal of the incident as a queer-bashing. The crux of this trial centers on whether or not Luke was queer-bashed. While the prosecution maintains that Luke’s attackers aren’t homophobic, a recent video showing one of the “victims” standing by, laughing, while a transwoman was beaten in Little 5 Points reveals their true character.
When the time for sentencing came, Judge Markle revealed what side he was on: not ours. He went so far as to explicitly state that he was “having second thoughts” as to whether he should have allowed the plea deal at all. The two years of prison time that Luke will serve is remarkably low given the 110 years of prison he faced. The judge said that he allowed the plea deal only because he had previously stated that he would back whatever agreement the defense and prosecution made. Judge Markle then sentenced Luke to the pre-negotiated plea, but added several conditions: According to Judge Markle, following his prison time, Luke will be banned from the state of Georgia, with the exception of Screven County; his probation cannot be terminated early at any point; he is not eligible for non-reporting probation; any probation violations are to be referred to Judge Markle; and Luke will be forced to undergo weekly drug and alcohol tests for the full eight years. While Luke could have chosen at this point to change his plea and move on with a trial, he chose to enter into the prison system under Judge Markle’s stipulations.
We understand Judge Markle’s addition of harsher conditions as a direct attempt to intimidate Luke out of the plea deal and into a trial, which would have carried with it the risk of 110 years of prison time. We understand Luke’s acceptance of the plea deal and his admission of guilt as the direct result of coercion by the State. Furthermore, we understand the banishment from the state of Georgia as a direct attempt by the judge to separate Luke from the power and strength of his supporters. The fact that Luke is surrounded by an impressive community of support was absolutely obvious to anyone in court today, including the judge. There wasn’t a single spare seat in the sections set aside for Luke’s supporters. It is the role of the state to separate each of us from one another, and the judge was clearly interested in extending his reach as far into Luke’s life as possible — not only will Luke be separated from us in prison, he will be separated from those of us in Atlanta for many years after his release.
We are deeply saddened by the fact that Luke was taken away from us. As always, we believe that Luke is not guilty of the crimes with which he has been charged. Nevertheless, as Luke remains strong on the inside, we will do our best to remain strong on the outside. For us, this means that we will continue to support Luke in every way possible, including continuing the struggle against the greater social context that allows events like the attack on Luke to occur daily. He has asked that we publish the following statement on his behalf:
My name is Luke O’Donovan. In the early morning of January 1st, 2013, I was attacked by a group of men at a party because of my sexuality. In an attempt to defend myself from the attack I thought could end my life I stabbed 5 of them, while also being stabbed 3 times myself. It is regrettable that anyone had to come to harm, but given the choice of whether to lose my life to a hateful attack or fight for the chance to live, I will always choose the ferocious refusal to go quietly into the night. This refusal was not fueled by hate for my attackers, but by my love for life. It is this passion for life that came in conflict with my attackers, and this same passion that was arrested by the cops and is being punished by the courts. It is this passion that they are trying to chain, to cage, to rehabilitate me away from, but it is this passion that will pull my gaze – always forward – through the dark. I can already glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel. I’ll be home soon.
Luke will enter the prison system first at Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, GA, where he will spend the first thirty to sixty days of his sentence. He will then be transferred to Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, GA for between thirty and sixty days, during which his long-term location will be determined. Luke will serve out the remainder of his sentence — between twenty and twenty two months — at a location that is yet unknown to us.
Going forward, our support and yours will be needed in a number of ways:
– We need to raise a large amount of money over the next two years. Because he has chosen to remain vegan while in prison, Luke will need as much commissary as possible in order to purchase extra food. He will also need money for telephone calls, stamps, and other amenities. We encourage everyone to choose a recurring donation, as we will need to send him money every week. You can donate here.
– Please, please, please write to Luke. One of the worst parts of prison is the isolation, so we must do everything we can to keep him as connected to his community and supporters as possible. We encourage folks to organize letter writing nights so they can write to Luke (and other prisoners if they so choose) together. He will appreciate all supportive communication he gets. We will release his address at Fulton County Jail as soon as we get it. Please keep in mind that he will be transferred twice in the next six months, so his address will change. We will post updated addresses as soon as we get that information.
– Luke has compiled a list of books that he would like to receive. [We will link to this list as soon as it is online.] These books must be sent from a publisher, so you can order them on Amazon or an online publishing/bookselling site. Please keep in mind that Luke may not be able to take his books with him during his transfer from one facility to the next, so we will need to send him books at various points over the next two years.
Thank you for all of your support. We will continue to update everyone with all new information we receive.
In love and in rage,
the support luke defense committee
Expression of solidarity in Helsinki – obscenity of these charges just demands a counterreaction
11th of August at 3.30 PM local time 11 persons gathered in front of the United States Embassy in Helsinki, Finland to show their solidarity to Luke O’Donovan concerning his upcoming trial and to express their concerns over the rising trend of politically tinted homophobic traits and strongly anti-gay legislative amendments seen not only in the States, but in several European countries. The main message was simple: self-defence in a situation that demands it is everybody’s right – and even more so in a world wich political reality may cause individuals belonging to different minorities to face the threat of violence more often than before.
General mood during the protest was calm. Security personnel of the US Embassy played their part politely, taking the offered leaflets with promises to pass them on to the embassador Bruce J. Oreck himself and briefly mentioning how ”someone” might later come out to talk with the protestors.
Soon enough representatives of local police department arrived and played their general role, too, ordering the demonstrators to move further away from the Embassy and show their solidarity in a corner distant enough so it would not be seen or heard from the building itself. After a quarter of an hour of uniformed chest-beating and orders for the protesters to stop disturbing the traffic by standing at the road side the police were interrupted by the security staff of the British Embassy at the opposite site of the street with a polite request to remove their patrol car from blocking the Embassy’s gate and preventing the incoming cars from entering.
After an hour of chanting slogans, engaging into dialogues with the US Embassy staff and eating lollipops the participants collected their banderols.
Ears will still be turned towards the direction Atlanta – many bad things are taking place out there, but one of the most important connecting punchlines in reactions to all of them is the universal notion of injustice anywhere being a threat to justice everywhere.
The Attacks on the Atlanta LGBTQ Community Continue
Luke O’Donovan, a queer Atlantan, was attacked and viciously beaten by a mob of men screaming homophobic slurs at a New Year’s Eve party in Reynoldstown on January 1st, 2013. Luke tried to defend himself with a pocket knife and managed to escape, though he was rushed to the hospital with several stab wounds.
The case has moved slowly through the court system. Luke faces five charges of felony aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and one charge of attempted murder. Last month, Luke had a self-defense immunity hearing. Luke was denied immunity, but the defense feels that the hearing went well for Luke.
At the immunity hearing, the prosecution made a series of ludicrous claims in order to prop up their case. They made a point of asking every witness whether or not the term “faggot” was offensive, or just a synonym for other “non-offensive” terms like “pussies or bitches,” and later used the word “nigger” as another example of a “non-offensive” term.
Since the May 13th immunity hearing, one of the so-called victims in Luke’s trial was seen in footage of a horrific transphobic attack which occurred just outside of the Stratosphere skate shop in Little 5 Points. Just a few weeks prior to this attack, a group of men accosted, beat, and stripped two trans women nude on a MARTA train. These attacks are disturbing and wrong. We understand that the attack on Luke is a part of this growing homophobic violence in Atlanta.
We ask every member of the Atlanta gay and lesbian community to come to Luke’s trial at 8:45 AM on Tuesday, August 12. Our goal is to pack the court. Your presence will demonstrate to the judge and jury that Luke has many supporters who love and care about him and the issue at stake.
Luke’s court date was moved back a day to August 12th at 8:45am. It will still be held at
Fulton County Superior Court
185 Central Ave
Atlanta, GA 30303
We are asking everyone who can make it to come out and pack the courthouse!
The case has moved slowly through the court system. In April, Luke was re-indicted with an additional charge, and now faces five charges of felony aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and one charge of attempted murder. After over a year of waiting, Luke’s self-defense immunity hearing occurred in July of this year. Luke was denied immunity, but the defense feels that the hearing went well for Luke.
At the immunity hearing, the prosecution made a series of ludicrous claims in order to prop up their case. They made a point of asking every witness whether or not the term “faggot” was offensive, or just a synonym for other “non-offensive” terms like “pussies or bitches,” and later used the word “nigger” as another example of a “non-offensive” term. The prosecution’s attempt to neutralize such blatantly homophobic words make it clear that the New Year’s incident is not a singular event, but part of a greater social problem of homophobia.
Since the May 13th immunity hearing, one of the so-called victims in Luke’s trial was seen in footage of a horrific transphobic attack which occurred just outside of the Stratosphere skate shop in Little 5 Points, a neighborhood in northeast Atlanta. This attack captured the interests of media outlets and provoked outrage in many Atlantans. Just a few weeks prior to this attack, two trans women were accosted, beaten, and stripped nude on a MARTA train by a group of men while on their way home. We find these attacks disturbing and wrong — and hope that the incident involving Luke will be understood as a part of this larger context.
Following the denial of immunity, the case will now move on to trial by jury. Although Luke was denied immunity, we are still hopeful that the trial will proceed favorably for Luke. While the burden of evidence for the immunity hearing rested upon the defense (Luke and his lawyer and witnesses), the burden of evidence for the trial will rest on the prosecution. At trial, arguments for self-defense can still be made. We have just received notice that the trial will begin on Monday, August 11.
In the year and a half since the incident, much has been accomplished: the original media narrative which painted Luke as a deranged aggressor was successfully challenged; over thirteen thousand dollars have been raised; and people across the country and the world have displayed their support. In the week and a half until trial, we have a lot more to do. We ask for your continued support in whatever ways you can provide it:
– We are still $200 short for legal fees. This is a menial sum compared with the amount that has been raised since Luke was first arrested, but we still need to cover this cost. Any amount will help. You can donate here.
– There will soon be a pre-written postcard that everyone can send to the judge (through Luke’s lawyer) presiding over Luke’s case. The postcard is an effort to make clear to the judge that many people are watching and care about Luke’s case. Although a jury will decide the verdict (guilty or not) on Luke’s case, the judge will give the sentence. Letters of support and appeal to the judge may therefore have influence over Luke’s sentencing in case of a guilty verdict. The postcard will be available in both print and online form.
– If you are able to make it to court at 9AM on Monday, August 11, please do. Our presence at court will demonstrate to the judge and jury that Luke has many supporters who love and care about him and the issue at stake. Court will be held at the Superior Court of Fulton County, 136 Pryor Street, S.W., Suite C-640. Please come in appropriate court attire.
– Please stay tuned for updates on Luke. Whether it be for a happy celebration or the beginning of long-term support, Luke will continue to need your help after the trial.
Thanks for everything.