Stabbing or Self-Defense in Alleged Atlanta Hate Crime?
Luke O'Donovan, a queer stabbing suspect, was granted a $35,000 bond at preliminary hearing held on January 16 in Atlanta Superior Court.
Noah Pines, a criminal defense attorney with the law firm of Ross & Pines, will represent O'Donovan. Pines told EDGE that O'Donovan will be released from jail once the bond is posted and processed by the Fulton County Sheriff's Department.
"I will continue my investigation into this matter and hope to have all potential witnesses interviewed soon," Pines said. "I will then share my investigation with the Atlanta Police Department and the Fulton County District Attorney's Office, with the hope of having the charges against Luke dismissed."
Pines added, "If the Fulton County District Attorney's Office refuses to dismiss the charges and an indictment is filed, I will file a 'motion for immunity' asking a Superior Court Judge to determine, as a matter of law, that Luke was acting in self-defense and therefore immune from prosecution."
The meeting was held just days after a town hall meeting hosted by his friends and supporters on January 13 at a Five Points Community Center. O'Donovan was at a New Year's Eve party when he claims he was attacked, and defended himself with a knife.
Victims and local media portray the man as being on "a stabbing rampage," while his friends maintain that O'Donovan was protecting himself from a group of attackers intent on doing bodily harm while screaming homophobic epithets. O'Donovan was later arrested while in the hospital having his injuries treated; his alleged attackers remain free.
O'Donovan, 19, had remained in custody in a Fulton County jail without bond since his arrest on New Year's Day, after he had attended a New Year's Eve party at a home located at 239 Gibson St., SE in Reynoldstown.
"Witnesses stated that they observed a group of five to six males fighting in the backyard of 239 Gibson St., SE over a discussion regarding sexuality," read the Atlanta Police Department incident report. "The fight quickly escalated when the suspect (O'Donovan) pulled out a knife. Witnesses stated that the victims were attempting to stop Mr. O'Donovan when they were also stabbed."
According to a January 3 statement from Atlanta Police Department Sgt. Greg Lyon, they have received information that a gay slur directed toward O’Donovan possibly preceded the incident.
"We are not sure if the information is credible but are investigating the incident and will pursue this and any other leads," Lyon stated. "It should be noted, however, that officers arrested a man identified as stabbing five people. It will be up to the judicial system to determine if there were any mitigating factors prior to the stabbings. Zone 6 investigators are in the preliminary stages of investigation, and our LGBT liaisons have also been alerted to the incident."
Since O’Donovan’s arrest, friends and supporters who believe that he was simply acting in self-defense after being jumped by the group of men who used homophobic slurs have formed a Let Luke Go committee. The group has set up a website, which they update with current information on the case. The group also held a fundraiser earlier in the month that raised $850, according to their website.
The Let Luke Go committee held the town hall meeting that was described on the group’s website as an open event designed to raise awareness about O’Donovan’s situation and "to discuss the connection that we all have with the dangers of the homophobia that is so pervasive in modern society."
According to the invite on the site, "all (non-homophobic) community members, media, and concerned parties" were encouraged to attend the meeting, held on Sunday, January 15.
About 50 people gathered in a room at the Five Points Community Center. Aroara Thunder, a local drag personality who helped to organize the town hall meeting, began by reading a statement to the press.
"We are here to support Luke," said Thunder. "We’re not going to discuss the details of the incident of the 1st, because it’s an open case. We’re going to talk about the here and now."
Thunder read a prepared statement about the groups’ understanding of the events that led up the January 1 stabbing to a crowd primarily comprised of O’Donovan’s friends and supporters.
"Luke was seen kissing men during a party and was called homophobic slurs by multiple people who are known to have a history of homophobic behavior, and was attacked later that night during the party by these same individuals," read Thunder’s statement.
In the release, Thunder added that O’Donovan "sustained injuries from being kicked, punched and stabbed in the upper back at least once. Any injuries that the attackers may have received were due to Luke defending himself."
Thunder noted that O’Donovan identifies as queer, which means that he does not identify by a stable sexual identity. O’Donovan currently has a girlfriend, Erin Connolly.
According to the group, the New Year’s Eve event is a case of "queerbashing."
"We have used the word ’queerbashing’ to describe this incident because our understanding is that Luke was attacked because he was seen kissing other men. We believe that attacking anyone because of their sexual expression is unacceptable," said Thunder.
Although the media was invited to attend, some at the meeting seemed upset by their presence. There was one television media outlet in attendance, WXIA, Channel 11 Alive, news along with other print/online media outlets. When asked by the television news anchor if someone could give a statement on behalf of their friend, many refused to speak to the media. Many of them said they were not in a position to speak for or represent O’Donovan.
When asked, no one said that they were there as a representative or family member of O’Donovan. The organizers of the town hall meeting said that they would not be interviewed on camera. The prepared statement read by Thunder was the group’s way of communicating.
After reading from the statement, Thunder asked the group, which was seated in a circle, to talk about what the incident meant to the community and how they felt. But those in attendance were slow to open up and to share their thoughts.
Thunder led the way, saying, "This is really fucking scary, ya’ll. I was supposed to be at the party, but my boyfriend decided to do something else. When I found out what had happened, I was shocked. I had a lot of friends at the party, and it became really real and terrifying for me."
"I’m still processing what it means being queer and that this still can happen to people you know," Thunder added. "I don’t know what to do of it." However, Thunder said that he can support his friend.
As others began to speak, they did so without giving their names, and some accused the media of taking over the meeting.
After Thunder led the way, another friend spoke up. He said he had attended the party and was shocked by the night’s event.
"What really hurts me is Luke was alone," the friend said. "This all reminds me that you can’t go places alone because when you’re alone, you’re vulnerable. I can’t help but feel that it wasn’t an accident that he was attacked when he was alone. I haven’t been able to go anywhere alone since that night really."
A young lady also spoke up, saying, "What happened that night was really terrible, but it wasn’t just that night. It happens all the time," she said of similar homophobic incidents. "Because Luke chose not to be a victim and chose to live, he’s now incarcerated."
According to the police incident report, O’Donovan had multiple stab wounds to his upper back. Three individuals also received stab wounds. Brett Hammett, 22, sustained a stab wound to his front abdomen; Blake Love, 21, sustained a laceration to his wrist and was released; and Kevin Ralph, 25, sustained a stab wound to the thigh.