Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

The Death and Life of Sean Kennedy: A Commemoration

Sean KennedySean Kennedy died from injuries sustained in an anti-LGBT hate crime attack outside a Greenville, SC bar on May 16, 2007.  The facts of the case are not in dispute.  At 3:45 a.m., Sean William Kennedy, 20, an out gay man, approached some young women who were talking with a car full of straight young men, among whom was Stephen Moller, 18.  The women were distracted from speaking to the young studs by Kennedy, who inadvertently brushed his cigarette against Moller’s cheek, giving him a little burn.  Another passenger in the car told Moller, “You know that dude is gay, right?” and “You probably have got AIDS from him!”  Enraged, Moller rushed out of the car and hit Sean Kennedy in the face with his fist so hard that his facial bones broke.  Kennedy fell back as a result of Moller’s blow with such force that when his head hit the concrete curb, his brain stem detached from his brain.  Moller got back in the car, which sped away from the scene of the crime.

Sean Kennedy had no chance.  In effect, he was dead from the moment his skull struck the curb.  Elke Kennedy, his mother, has had to live with the horror of his murder ever since.

Moller, on the other hand, reveled in his macho moment.  In a drunken phone call to one of Sean’s friends just fifteen minutes after the crime, Moller taunted Kennedy for his sexual orientation.  Though it was taped and verified to be Moller’s voice, the call was never allowed into testimony at Moller’s trial:

“Hey. (laughter) Whoa stop. (laughter) Hey, I was just wondering how your boyfriend’s feeling right about now. (laughter) (??) knocked the f— out. (laughter). The f—— faggot. He ought to never stick his mother-f—— nose (??) Where are you going? Just a minute. (laughter). Yea boy, your boy is knocked out, man. The mother——-. Tell him he owes me $500.00 for breaking my god—- hand on his teeth that f—— bitch.”                                                            


Moller's mug shot, SC Department of Corrections

Moller's mug shot, SC Department of Corrections

Gay panic.  AIDS terror.  Homophobia.  Macho bravado.  A hands-on-attack in which the assailant feels the need to damage his target up close and personally.  These are all the hallmarks of an anti-LGBT hate crime, as well as the response of the police on the scene who refused to take the hate crime dimension of the assault seriously enough to investigate it until later, and the reluctance of the District Attorney to bring sexual orientation into the case for fear of local heterosexist and homophobic prejudices.  Local law enforcement reluctance to investigate or prosecute hate crimes against LGBT people is one of the prime reasons a federal hate crimes statute like the Matthew Shepard Act is so needed.  Under the provisions of the Shepard Act, the Attorney General of the United States is enpowered to take over the investigation and prosecution of such a hate crime in situations like this one.  No doubt, Moller’s homophobic braggadocio would have been taken into account, had the Shepard Act been on the books at the time of Sean Kennedy’s murder.  Moller’s defense rested on two contentions that the court in Greenville bought, in the end: first, Moller didn’t even know Kennedy was gay until after the assault, the inadmissible taped phone conversation to the contrary, and second, nothing in this case rose to the level of murder.  The D.A. settled for a charge of manslaughter which carries a penalty of 0-5 years in South Carolina.  Moller got three years with credit for time served, and sympathy for his need to support a baby he sired while in the custody of the state.  An attempt to lessen his prison time failed, thanks to the efforts of Sean Kennedy’s mother, stepfather, and hundreds of concerned people from around the country who petitioned the parole board in Columbia to deny Moller’s petition for early release.  In the end, Moller will serve about a year and a half of actual time, with probation for the hate crime murder of an innocent gay man.  Moller is due to be set free, his debt to society paid in full, in July 2009.  


Sean’s death still tortures his loved ones.  His mother said, “My son was violently murdered because of hate and as his mother I wanted justice. My family will never be the same, a big part of our lives has been ripped out of our hearts.”  For too many hate crimes victims, that would be the end of it–injustice, anguish, and the eventual amnesia of a society that would rather just not think about such things.  But not for Sean.  

SeansLastWishElke and her husband Jim Parker have rallied hundreds to the cause of remembering Sean and advocating for LGBT human rights.  They established Sean’s Last Wish, a foundation that perpetuates Sean Kennedy’s desire that everyone be treated equally, www.seanslastwish.org.  Sean’s parents have become lions in the struggle for South Carolina and the rest of the nation to have the tools needed to investigate and prosecute violence and intimidation motivated by bias against persons regardless of race, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, disability, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity of the victim.  Sean’s death has, in effect, given birth to a new and effective way for his memory to be preserved and honored: in the lives of all those spared and enriched to live fully as who they are, free of fear and violence.  

The struggle for justice for Sean continues.  Elke Kennedy recently said, “No mother should lose a child to hate. No mother should have to fight for justice for their child.  To parents who reject their children for their orientation, what would you do if you got a call at three in the morning telling you your child had been murdered?”  And Sean’s new life past his death, in memory, in advocacy, and as a cherished story that shall not be forgotten goes on and on.  As Sean himself wrote, “So who knows what’s around the corner or down the street.  I’m just gonna live life and find out.”

Sprinkle in FL 08 


   ~~ Stephen V. Sprinkle, Director of the Unfinished Lives Project

May 17, 2009 - Posted by | Heterosexism and homophobia, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Social Justice Advocacy, South Carolina | , , , , , , , ,

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