GREENVILLE, S.C. — On Oct. 22, the Greenville County Grand Jury returned an indictment of involuntary manslaughter against 19-year-old Stephen Andrew Moller of Taylors, S.C., who is accused in the May death of openly gay 20-year-old Sean Kennedy.
Stephen Andrew Moller, 19, will only face up to five years in prison.
Moller allegedly used an anti-gay slur before punching Kennedy, who fell backward and hit his head on the curb causing the brain trauma that resulted in his death.
The involuntary manslaughter charge is less than what Kennedy’s family and many in the Carolinas LGBT community had hoped for.
The victim’s mother, Elke Kennedy, told local television station WYFF, “This news from the county of Greenville is devastating. I feel like my son has been murdered again. There’s not justice for Sean, and this position makes it very clear that we need hate crime laws in South Carolina and in this nation.”
Thirteenth Circuit Solicitor Robert Ariail defended the Grand Jury. “The law requires malicious intent to indict on a murder charge and we knew that under the facts of this case, the Grand Jury would most probably not find evidence of malicious intent.
“Realizing the possibility of no indictment on the murder charge, which would result in Moller’s release, my office prepared, in advance, an alternate charge which was involuntary manslaughter. That is the only other applicable charge to the facts of this case.”
Ariail concluded, the “actions of the Grand Jury are correct under the law and our concern should turn to correcting the law.”
The problem, he explained, arises from the fact that South Carolina law codifies no crime between murder and involuntary manslaughter. If convicted of murder, a person could face a minimum of 30 years to life in prison. An involuntary manslaughter conviction carries a sentence of zero to five years in prison.
In a statement posted on SeansLastWish.com, the website the Kennedy family established for their hate crimes advocacy campaign, Elke Kennedy observed, “[Involuntary manslaughter] carries only a sentence of 0-5 years, most likely [Moller] won’t serve any or very little time. With this, there will be no trial (unless he pleads not guilty — which is highly unlikely).”
Ariail asked the Kennedys to help him fix this flaw in the system. “I hope the Kennedy family will join me to encourage the legislature to review their situation, and to modify our current statutory law so that we can address the present inadequacy in the law.”
He added, “We understand and agree with the concerns of the Kennedy family that the available punishment for this crime is inadequate. The five-year maximum punishment allowed by law for involuntary manslaughter is not sufficient in Sean’s death.”
Elke Kennedy vowed, “Our fight to stop hate and violence is just beginning and it has gained even more momentum because of this decision.”