A gay Atlanta man will spend two years in prison for his role in a New Year's Eve brawl in which he stabbed five people, claiming that he acted in self-defense after party-goers aimed gay slurs at him.
On Tuesday, Fulton Superior Court Judge Todd Markle sentenced Luke O'Donovan to 10 years – two years in prison and eight more on probation – as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors, according to Vice. Markle also banished O'Donovan from all but one Georgia county – Screven – to serve his probation.
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.
Supporters of O'Donovan decried the sentence in a press release on Thursday. From the Luke O'Donovan Support Committee:
“This is the epitome of 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 facts of this case were clearly biased due to the group nature of the attack and the complicity of some onlookers. The demonization of O'Donovan's actions is apart of a growing trend: criminalizing those who successfully defend themselves from hate crimes.
“O'Donovan's defense team was only 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.
“These arduous court proceedings have illustrate that the court and the presiding judge are 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 “faggot” was offensive or just a synonym for other “non-offensive” terms like “pussies,” “bitches,” or “nigger.” Before sentencing O'Donovan, 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.
Supporters rallied for O'Donovan after the incident, which took place in Reynoldstown in the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 2013. The fight led to five people being stabbed and O'Donovan also suffering injuries. O’Donovan’s mother says her son was defending himself, witnesses say a fight broke out after a group of people called O’Donovan a “faggot” for dancing with men at the party, and others claim he overreacted when the men jokingly aimed the homophobic slur at him.
After sentencing, O'Donovan said he was defending himself from “a hateful attack.”
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.
A spokesperson for the Fulton District Attorney's Office could not be immediately reached on Thursday.