Luke O’Donovan sentenced to jail for defending himself
© 2014 Diversity Rules Magazine. All Rights Reserved.
On New Year’s Eve of 2013, Luke O’Donovan attended a house party in Reynoldstown, a neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia. Luke was seen dancing with and kissing other men at the party. Later in the night he was insulted with homophobic slurs, and attacked by several people at once. Luke unsuccessfully attempted to escape, at which point several witnesses reported watching between 5 and 12 men ganging-up on Luke and stomping on his head and body, evidently with the intent to kill him. Luke was called a faggot before and during the attack. Throughout the course of the attack, Luke and five others were stabbed. Luke was subsequently imprisoned and charged with five counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon as well as one count of attempted murder. He spent two and a half weeks in jail without bond before being released under bond conditions that drastically affected his life. None of the other individuals involved in the altercation were charged.
Luke’s trial concluded on August 12, 2014, when he accepted a plea deal. The negotiated deal was as follows: Luke will be in the Georgia prison system for 2 years beginning on August 12, after which he will begin eight years of harsh probation. At the time of sentencing, the judge added to the negotiated plea that Luke will be banished from the state of Georgia for the eight years of his probation.
The following is an interview with Spenser Gould, a representative of Luke’s Support Committee discussing Luke’s case and what can be done to reverse this gross injustice to a victim of a hate crime.
(Editor’s Note: Luke’s story is a highly charged one with emotions running high on both sides of the fence. Diversity Rules Magazine is presenting Luke’s side of the story and welcomes all input and reaction from all those involved in this highly unfortunate incident.)
JRK: You are a member of Luke O’Donovan’s support team. Can you give readers some background on Luke, and details on the incident that precipitated his incarceration?
LSC: Luke O’Donovan is a young queer man who previously resided in metro Atlanta. Luke was a Literature major at Georgia Gwinnett College and an active, outgoing participant in many Atlanta social and political circles.
On New Year’s Eve of 2013 Luke, who at the time was 19, attended a house party in Reynoldstown, a neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia. Luke was seen dancing with and kissing other men at the party. Later in the night he was insulted with homophobic slurs, and attacked by several people at once. Luke unsuccessfully attempted to escape, at which point several witnesses reported watching between 5 and 12 men ganging-up on Luke and stomping on his head and body, evidently with the intent to kill him. Luke was called a faggot before and during the attack. Throughout the course of the attack, Luke was stabbed three times. He used a pocket knife to defend himself and five of his attackers were stabbed. Luke escaped into a random passing car that drove him to the hospital. While at the hospital he was arrested and charged with five counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon as well as one count of attempted murder. He spent two and a half weeks in jail without bond before being released under bond conditions that drastically affected his life.
JRK: The sentence handed down by Judge Merkel was clearly one grounded in homophobia and prejudice. After Luke serves 2 years in prison he will be on parole for 8 years but cannot reside in the state of GA. What steps can be taken to try to convince the judge to abandon his reckless and arcane 8 year banishment from the state during Luke’s parole period? Can this part of the ruling be appealed?
LSC: Luke was facing up to 110 years in prison for all of the charges against him. On July 1st he had a self-defense immunity hearing where his lawyer argued for all Luke to be immune from prosecution because of his actions being in self-defense. The judge denied him immunity at this hearing. Luke decided to plea guilty in a negotiated plea where he would serve 2 years in prison and 8 on probation. At the hearing where Luke was entering his plea the Judge remarked that he was having second thoughts about accepting the plea because he wanted Luke to serve more time, but that he was bound to accept it already. As a last minute addition to try and punish Luke further he banished Luke from the state of Georgia, except for the South Georgia Judicial circuit, which consists of four counties in rural Georgia, over four hours from Atlanta where Luke has always lived. Because it is very difficult to live or find jobs in the this area it is highly likely Luke will have to transfer his probation to another state.
Banishment is a legal punishment in Georgia, but you have to meet a burden of proof as to why the accused needs to be banished. In Luke’s case the Judge made no mention of why he was doing it. There is not really an appeals process for this, although the Judge can amend his decision. At the initial sentencing Judge Markel made it clear that Luke was stay on strict probation for the entire 8 years, saying that it could never go to non-reporting and that for any violations Luke was to appear in front of him. One week after the sentencing Luke had another brief court appearance in front of Judge Merkel where the Judge stated that he would be willing to work with Luke on the conditions of his probation as time went on. So this was a good step for us. We currently have a postcard up on the support website that people can print and send to Judge Markel, asking that he revisit his banishment decision.
JRK: The press release stated that one of the accused mothers has professional connections to the media and effectively thwarted efforts to publicize Luke’s injustice. What can be done to get the word out about Luke’s plight and efforts to vindicate him and remove the harsh and very punitive parole decree?
LSC: At the sentencing one of the victim’s mothers admitted to having made calls to various media outlets she was familiar with to tell them to not run a story favorable to Luke. She has a high ranking position at a large Midwestern media firm, so her name carries a bit of weight. She has continued to work behind the scenes to pressure major media firms to stay away from this story. Because of this social media has been really important in spreading Luke’s story. A ton of support has come our way from people sharing and tweeting about Luke. So please continue to do so whenever possible.
JRK: Luke’s attackers remain free. Was there any significant effort on the part of the Police to detain and question them? Was there ever any serious thought to arrest them for their part in the original attack?
LSC: The night of the fight Luke was the only one arrested and treated as perpetrator. Once word spread around that Luke was defending himself the police opened a half-hearted investigation into Luke as a victim. They interviewed a few people, mainly people involved in the attack. The investigating office always asked the people they were interview if they knew how Luke got “cut” on his back, even though he had three distinct stab wounds. Not a single person was asked about how Luke was stabbed. The police closed their investigation on Luke as a victim about a week after New Years. So I don’t think there was ever serious consideration to arrest them.
JRK: One of Luke’s assailants participated in an attack of a transgender woman on July 3rd? Was he ever arrested for this attack? Clearly this attack and his participation in it held no bearing on Luke’s case in the judge’s eyes which clearly verifies that there is a serious bias and prejudice against LGBT people in the state of GA.
LSC: There is a video from a July 3rd attack on a transgender woman. The video is a series of compiled vines, so each section is brief, but a large crowd is taunting and heckling the person before they get physically attacked. One of Luke’s attackers is a part of the crowd taunting crowd. I think it is important to note that Luke’s attack as another in a series of anti-LGBT occurrences in Atlanta. Before the July 3rd attack two trans woman were beaten and stripped while riding MARTA. In October of 2013 the lesbian bookstore, in the same neighborhood as the skate shop, was covered in homophobic graffiti. In 2012 a gay man had a tire thrown at him, and was beaten while being called a faggot repeatedly. It’s not just a matter of individualized homophobic behavior either, but a systematic ordering of subjectivities that marks queer bodies as expendable. In 2009 Atlanta Police illegally raided a gay bar, The Eagle, where they detained all of the patrons. The police officers involved later covered up the raid, lying about it, and deleting data from their phones about it.
These are just the incidents that have made it to light, but there are doubtless many others. I think it is clear that there is a lot to be done in regards to combating homophobia in Georgia.
JRK: We hear about hate crimes almost daily and there seems to be a level of indifference to these horrific crimes. How can we enlighten and educate the masses on these crimes and get them to be seriously addressed and help bring those perpetrating such horrendous acts against another human being to justice?
LSC: From Cece McDonald to the New Jersey 4, as well as countless others, hateful attacks on oppressed people are a regular part of the society we live in. And then those who fight back are the ones who get punished. It’s a tragic reality that far too many people are forced to realize. In recent years, however, fewer and fewer people are willing to accept this reality. Popular support for survivors of these attacks is going to be the most effective means of securing their freedom.
JRK: What can be done to help Luke over the next 2 years while he is in prison?
LSC: While Luke is in prison he needs our support more then ever. A really important way to show someone in prison that you care is to write a letter. Luke really likes rugby, Game of Thrones, Nietzche, and poetry. If you can’t think of what to write him about, just write a letter asking. You can also send him books for him to read. Books must be sent directly from a publisher, so the easiest way to do that is order from Amazon and put Luke’s address as the shipping address. For right now he can be written at the address below, but he will be transferred to a different prison soon, so his address will change.
Luke Patrick O’Donovan
C/O: Fulton County Jail
901 Rice Street NW
JRK: How can Diversity Rules readers and others financially support Luke’s defense and assist him with basic human necessities over the next two years.
LSC: Luke will also need money to cover his expenses while he is in prison. He is going to remain vegan, so he will need to spend a lot of commissary money on vegan food to ensure that he has enough to eat. On top of that he is going to need money for basic things like toothpaste, shoes, pens, paper, envelopes and stamps. Any amount will help. Right now there is a lot of donations coming in as the news is fresh on everyone’s mind, but we also need to remember that Luke will need money in two years just as much as he does now. It is really helpful when people set up recurring monthly donations, even if it’s only five dollars a month, that can be really helpful in the long term. You can donate to the PayPal set up for Luke’s defense fund by going to www.letlukego.wordpress.com/donate.
JRK: Do you have any parting thoughts you wish to relay to Diversity Rules readers?
LSC: We would like to say thanks for the opportunity to talk about Luke and for all the support he is getting. We also want to say that we know that Luke isn’t that only one to have something terrible like this happen to him, and we encourage all those who are fighting for a better world to keep at it.
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