UPDATED (1 p.m. Friday):'They beat me up because I'm gay'

Friday, May 28, 2010

See update at bottom of story.

One of two men charged in an alleged assault trial that started Wednesday said on Thursday he was willing to testify for the prosecution.

Billy Jack Knight, 29, is charged with aggravated assault, because of a beating that put victim Danny J. King, 20, in the emergency room late on Aug. 15.

Also charged in the beating is Phillip Venable and, under oath, Venable assured Circuit Court Judge Robert Crigler that he was willing to testify for the state.

"Nobody thought it was an option," Crigler said. "It's commonsense. You don't expect the co-defendant to testify" in this situation.

Crigler had sent the jury out of the courtroom after two hours of testimony Thursday, and called in Knight's co-defendant for the verification and then the judge retired to his chambers, leaving Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard and defense attorney David McKenzie to decide how they wanted to proceed, since Venable had not been included on the prosecution's witness list.

The judge was reluctant to declare a mistrial.

Thursday morning's testimony started with the emergency room doctor who treated King and sent him home about 4:30 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 16. The medical records from the ER included King's statement, as recorded by the triage nurse, "They beat me up because I'm gay."

Barnard asked Dr. Swanson if it had taken more than one blow to create the contusions, lacerations and hematoma that King suffered.

"Oh gosh yes - more than one blow," the doctor answered. "Definitely more than one hit. It was a savage beating."

The next witness was Miriam "Becky" Sweeney, 33, Knight's fiancée, who said she saw and heard the whole incident at the Jackson Trailer Park. She described how King approached on foot and asked her for a cigarette.

"I don't smoke," she told him. "None of us have a cigarette."

King walked away and, according to Sweeney, at that moment Venable pulled into the trailer park and said, "Did you see that [homosexual] walking up the road?"

"That boy came in here and asked for a cigarette," Knight is reported to have told him.

Then, according to Sweeney's testimony, King came back, walking fast and swinging his arms, saying, "Who don't like [expletive deleted gay people]?"

Knight put King in a headlock, and they fell to the ground. Neighbor Roy Wilson pulled King off Knight, but also fell, with King on top of him.

It was at this point, according to Sweeney's testimony, that Venable came "running" from his trailer, further down the park, and hit King while he was still on the ground.

"He reaches over and hits him one time," she said, confirming, "Yes, I saw him do it. It was solid - I could hear it."

Barnard showed Sweeney a picture of King's face, taken at the ER, and asked for her explanation of the damage to both sides of his face, and why the doctor said there had been more than one blow, and she said she had "no explanation."

During the lunch recess Thursday, King was asked if he was a "closeted" gay man. He replied, "No."

The trial continued Friday morning.

The victim's address is excluded here intentionally, but to avoid confusion in the public where there may be someone with the same name, it is noted that the victim lives west of the courthouse.


By Karen Hall

Staff Reporter

The jury retired to consider their verdict in Billy Jack Knight's case at 10:40 a.m. Friday. Knight, represented by local attorney David McKenzie, is charged with aggravated assault in the beating of Danny J. King, 20, late on Aug. 15, 2009.

Knight's co-defendant, Phillip Venable, took the stand as a prosecution witness late Thursday afternoon.

"Tell me who hit him," said Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard, showing Venable pictures taken of King's face at the emergency room.

"Me, and Roy (Wilson), and Deamicos (Wilson)," said Venable, weeping and turning over the sheet of pictures so that he didn't have to look at them.

"I struck Danny King," confessed Venable. Further questions from Barnard elicited the information that it was one blow to the left of the victim's face with a closed fist.

"If I'd have known he was hurt that bad, I'd have helped him," Venable said, crying.

The prosecution also called a neighbor from Jackson Trailer Park, Phyllis Skank, who knew all the parties involved. Skank alleged Knight's fiancée, Miriam "Becky" Sweeney said, "If Billy goes to jail over this beating, they're all going to jail because they all hit him."

Skank further testified that she asked Roy Wilson if he "hit the kid" and reported the reply was, "Yeah, I was defending myself and my property."

On another occasion, according to the statement she gave to Detective Santiago McKlean, Skank asked 'Micos Wilson if he hit King, and the answer was, "Hell yeah, I did. Everybody else was hitting him so I got a few licks in, too."