Did Kentucky Lesbian Teen Lie About Being Hate Crimed By Her BFFs?

The 17-year old accused last April of attacking lesbian teenager Cheyenne Williams has been acquitted on all charges, which suggests a similar verdict will be handed down to the two 18-year-olds involved, Corinne Schwab and Ashley Sams, also charged with fourth-degree assault and menacing. The girls were originally charged with attempted murder and kidnapping but on April 29th, a judge said that the attack was not a hate crime and charges were reduced from attempted murder and kidnapping to fourth-degree assault and menacing (both misdemeanors). The acquitted teenager’s attorney, Sharon K. Allen Gay, said that if the prosecutor doesn’t move to dismiss the charges against the other two girls, Gay will be “basically arguing it’s a waste of time” to have another trial:

The judge acquitted her after hearing only the prosecution’s case — before the defense presented any witnesses, said Gay, who represents Sams.

Jordan Palmer, founder of the Kentucky Equality Federation, who has served as spokesman for Williams and her family, was not available for comment on Monday’s verdict… in addition, no one returned a phone message left at Williams’ home…

Does that sound weird to you? Maybe not.  But IT GETS WEIRDER and actually even more REALLY F*CKING UPSETTING. Why? Well, to be honest, it’s time we consider the possibility that something is really wrong here and that Cheyenne — or her attorneys/advocates/mom — might be lying about the nature of the attack. OMFG HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT AGAINST THE PERSECUTED HOMOSEXUALS you may be asking us, the court is homophobic! This is all a conspiracy! HOW DARE YOU SUGGEST THAT SOMEONE WOULD LIE ABOUT BEING HATE CRIMED?

And trust me — I pretty much think everything in America is part of a giant conspiracy led by straight white patriarchal systems of power and my politics are way more left-wing radical than I could probably ever legally write here if I ever wanted to get another advertiser.

So let’s figure this out together, yeah? We’re right here with you — skeptical but also desiring truth. Maybe even read a little bit about Jordan Palmer and the Kentucky Equality Federation.

Are we (the GLBT media) capable of looking at this case objectively? Should we always assume that the gay is on the Side of Truth and anyone against her is just Against Gays? Clearly “innocent until proven guilty” was thrown out the window when the GLBT media first started reporting on this, which is, I think, totally fine. But– well, let’s begin at the beginning…

Cheyenne with her alleged attackers, Corinne Schwab and Ashley Sams

You might remember this case from when we reported on it at the time: Cheyenne had been out as a lesbian for some time (and had a girlfriend), the four girls were best friends and the alleged attackers claimed the whole thing was a “prank gone awry.” Cheyenne’s Mom called it a hate crime. The incident occurred on the same day as the “Day of Silence” anti-violence event, promoted by the national Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Alliance. Many students at Cheyenne’s school supported the day but others wore stickers which declared “gay is not the way.” In other words, Jackson County isn’t exactly the Castro District, but it’s also not Malawi.

Cheyenne signed a sworn criminal complaint saying that she was abducted on Friday April 16th by the three girls. Cheyenne claimed she was taken to Flat Lick Falls, a remote area 60 miles southeast of Lexington, under the pretext that her friends were taking her to a job interview. Once there they allegedly beat and choked her and attempted to push her off a 50-foot cliff. Williams allegedly broke free by fending off her attackers with a stick. Before the attack, a large rock was allegedly thrown at her, which allegedly caused her to fall and injure her back. The attackers then allegedly took Williams to a restaurant and then allegedly warned her not to say anything.

Based on Williams’s statement, a local prosecutor issued arrest warrants for the three suspects without a police investigation. They were arrested and released from jail when their parents posted $25,000 bail.

Kentucky.com reported: “The detective handling the case said he would not characterize the alleged attack as a hate crime. It appears the incident started as a prank but escalated to the point that Williams was frightened and sustained minor injuries.”

About a week later, a little more (vague and unsubstantiated) information surfaced regarding the strange and disturbing story of Cheyenne Williams when the Kentucky Equality Federation (an independent volunteer-run group) said that the three friends had made a secret pact giving Cheyenne six months to “turn straight or else” — but there was no word on where this information about the pact might have come from.

The Kentucky Equality Federation (“Kentucky’s largest all-volunteer grassroots lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex civil rights and advocacy organization”), which was then speaking exclusively on Cheyenne’s behalf and used apostrophes to pluralize “Video” and “Picture” on its website, which may or may not have been driving us insane, said the pact had been made amongst the assailants and that Williams was not aware of it until the day of the assault.

State Police Detective Joie Peters told reporters that the girls had been best friends since sixth grade with no prior problems between them and that one of the alleged attackers had in fact recently shared a room with The Lesbian during a senior trip to Key West and The Bahamas! You can’t just go to the Bahamas with somebody and then throw them off a cliff, right? That would be so rude, because memories from senior trips are 4ever.

On April 26th, The Lexington Herald-Leader reported (via Towleroad) that the classmate’s lawyers claimed the whole thing “was a ‘staged incident’ in which Williams was a willing participant.” The attorneys said the attack had been video recorded via cell-phone and the video would show that Cheyenne was a willing participant.

In June, Corinne Schawb’s attorney sought to file a perjury charge against Cheyenne Williams.

On June 7th, the Kentucky Equality Federation stated that Cheyenne’s inconsistent testimony was a result of “victim intimidation.”

Today, August 18th, in response to the acquittal, United We Stand Kentucky (volunteer journalists, bloggers, and contributors associated with the Kentucky Equality Federation) reported:

The lack of official court room procedure, as well as inadequate prosecution in this case continue to unfold.  London based Kentucky Equality Federation Treasurer Dean Byrd stated it was his belief that if the case had taken place in a urban court such as Lexington, Richmond, or Louisville the outcome would have been different.

The grandmother of the alleged victim today added: “The judge mentioned lack of evidence; maybe it was because the judge slept through the evidence.”

The Kentucky Equality Federation released a statement today:

The family has give Kentucky Equality Federation the green light to begin getting information for a civil case.

I drilled Ms. Williams with Statehouse candidate Matthew Vanderpool during the last hearing and both of us were satisfied that she was being truthful. Mr. Vanderpool, an openly gay candidate for the Kentucky House of Representatives also offered his support to the family and wanted to shed light on hate crimes across the Commonwealth regardless of race, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

It would not be the first time in the history of the Kentucky Court of Justice or the United States that a person was found criminally innocent and later found guilty in civil court.

This case and its information have also been forwarded to the FBI.

As a community, we remain united with Ms. Williams.”

The Statehouse candidate Matthew Vanderpool is worth a closer look: check out this recent post about Vandepool on Joe.my.God.

Kentucky.com also reported the following:

Williams videotaped part of the alleged attack on her cell phone. That tape is a key piece of evidence… Williams said at an earlier hearing that she did not laugh throughout the attack, but the video confirms she did laugh during the event, according to defense attorneys and police.

State police Detective Joie Peters, who began investigating after the three teens were charged, has testified that Williams’ story to him did not match other evidence and statements. For instance, Hays, the county attorney, said Williams told him she blacked out during the attack, but Williams did not tell Peters that, the detective said.

The judge’s ruling on Monday confirms that no crime was committed in the case, Gay said in a news release.

dotted-divider2

When the story came out there WAS no evidence suggesting she was lying (or telling the truth, really), and because hate crimes against gay people are such a hot-button, sensitive topic with a rich history of denial or dismissal by mainstream society, I think it’s a natural reaction to believe the person. We did. Like any victim. But more so because it’s “one of us” being wronged in a way that we’ve possibly experienced ourselves.

So far, the only evidence that exists supporting Cheyenne’s story is Cheyenne’s testimony. Defendants tried to block her testimony, claiming it was inconsistent and irrelevant, but the judge did allow it at trial, saying it’s up to the jury to decide.

We’ve been afraid to suggest that these charges are not true because that seems to be something we’re just not allowed to do, as gay media.

But if these charges are not true, suggesting she was lying isn’t a crime against gay people. The crime against gay people IS the lie.

Now, let’s get honest: we’ve had a strange feeling about this from the get-go. There was no physical evidence of the injuries she claimed to suffer. The Kentucky Equality Federation, who is spearheading the case, has been questioned by gay allies as possibly not-totally-awesome-advocates.

We admit that, when linked to a facebook profile via a comment on a Towleroad story, we started digging around Cheyenne’s online life (even going so far as to join a terrible place called myYearbook) to get more info on the story, which is when we started raising an eyebrow. Things seemed off here, but we knew that somebody’s Facebook/myYearbook/MySpace behavior didn’t exactly constitute evidence for journalists or lawyers (and perhaps, should not even be included in this post? Thoughts? This is a real question.)

We went through all the proper channels to get more information from Cheyenne. We contacted Cheyenne Williams (sidenote her email address actually includes the word “crywolf” which is SO WEIRD) and the Kentucky Equality Federation but got nothing in response.

What do you think? If the evidence says the girls aren’t guilty, do we trust the judge? And if not, why not? When is it okay to question our own? We endeavor to suggest that in the case of Cheyenne Williams, the time is now.


We keep Autostraddle majority free-to-read, but it isn't free to create! We need YOU to sign up for A+ to help keep this indie queer media site funded. A+ membership starts at just $4/month or $30/year. If you can, will you join?

Join A+

Riese

Riese is the 39-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2945 articles for us.

15 Comments

    • My guess? And again, I am constantly thinking I know why people do what they do, which is possibly insane/outrageous… I’m guessing either that Cheyenne told her Mom that her friends attacked her to explain why she was out there at the cliff participating in this “prank” to begin with (as it sounds pretty silly), especially a prank that involved some kind of physical roughhousing, or she told her Mom she’d been “abducted” to explain why she came home late/missed her summer job interview. Maybe she didn’t want to work that summer and this got her out of it. Maybe she amped up the story. Maybe she was upset at one of the girls about something and so she just said what she said. I don’t think she’s crazy, I just think she’s acting dumb. Who knows, really, it’s hard to know what goes on between a group of teenage girls, we’ve all been there… maybe her Mom had always warned Cheyenne being “out” would get her in trouble and when Mom jumped to that conclusion, Cheyenne followed her there. And then one thing lead to another and before she knew it Cheyenne was pressing charges against her friends with a clear lack of understanding of the severity of the situation.

      I’m suspicious of the KEF and their role in perhaps egging her on or re-framing the incident in her mind. It’s possible Cheyenne believes her new story at this point. I know I’ve done that, when you’re told something enough times or when you tell a story enough times it begins to feel true, even though it isn’t. You lose track.

      I feel like [I FEEL LIKE = not fact, just opinion and me being judgey! warning!] anyone who grasps the seriousness of the accusations they’ve leveled against their friends or the media attention and subsequent GLBT community support garnered by hate crime allegations wouldn’t be spending her time off school taking photos of herself and talking about how her girlfriend has a booty like pow pow pow and she can’t wait to see her baby. Like, your life is serious now, woman! Enough with the new pants!

  1. Amen! It’s way past time to question the Cheyenne Williams case. We are so fond of saying that we’re just like everyone else, except when we’re fabulously awesome, so why can’t we also be a little crazy, too? Your instincts were right on when you got that funny feeling “all may not be as it seems” from the beginning. I got that feeling and it usually serves me well. Being a teenager is hard, just ask one. Cheyenne wouldn’t be the first one to get involved in something that spiraled out of control. The saddest part of all this is if any of it is true. Her family, friends, lawyers and advocates have done nothing to fend of the impression that something just isn’t right. I hope that some responsible person steps forward and stops all the nonsense. All parties affected, including the LGBT community in Kentucky, deserve better.

  2. I agree that something about this case has seemed off from the very beginning. It’s just a gut feeling though.

    p.s. How do I apply for the job of Secret Undercover Autostraddle Agent? I want that job.

    • I’m with you, I’ve had that same nagging feeling about this whole thing. My angry gay me really wants to believe the alleged victim, but something about the whole story just seemed fishy from the get go.

  3. But if these charges are not true, suggesting she was lying isn’t a crime against gay people. The crime against gay people IS the lie.

    exactly. props on looking at this in a skeptical light. i still don’t know enough about the whole thing to have formulated an opinion or even much of a hunch, but i think the more gay media can be even-handed in approaching stuff like this, the more we can transcend most bullshit media outlets and the more credibility we’ll be given.

    also this is weird: i live in lexington & watch the local news EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. and in two months of being here, i’ve yet to hear a word mentioned about this case. i don’t think they’d avoid it for any particular reason, since local news in the suburbs in so goddamn sensational and yesterday they reported on an epidemic of “Garaging,” which is when people steal things from people’s garages. Seriously, they have NOTHING to report. Also a man hurt a dog somewhere in Western Kentucky yesterday, fyi.

    I’ve yet to see it in our (thankfully just barely left-leaning) paper, the herald leader, either, but I don’t keep up with it as much. I’ll have to see what I can scrounge up.

    ALSO I CAN DRIVE TO THAT PLACE AND INVESTIGATE THE CRIME SCENE. EH? EH?

    • Garaging (or garagin’ as our part of the country would call it hahaha)…can’t say we have that problem in TN. But then again, all we have in our garages are fishing poles and tore up Mazda engines.

      And if you’re willing to make the drive, I would love to see some photos of the alleged crime scene. I’ve wondered what the place looks like.

  4. Urrgh- my silly net decided to die- so if this post appears twice please forgive me!!
    I live ‘down-under’ so I only know what I have read on this awesomely-super-cool-daily-obsession-website about this case.
    I don’t know if she is telling the truth or lying, which kinda annoys me coz I like to know stuff and feel smart!! haha!!

    If she is telling the truth then “go girl!!!!” coz it takes balls to stand up against adversity. People need to know that hate crimes still occur on a daily basis. As they say- Knowledge is Power- if people dont know that these horrible things happen then people won’t stand up and fight for equality.

    But- if she is telling porkie-pies and making shit up…grr..Ok so hate-crimes got attention again. But unfortunately I think (I-not anyone else) that it takes ‘us’ about 10 steps backwards. People have been fighting for equality and some homophobes have changed their minds, and realised that they are stupid and have become ‘gay-friendly’ (not enough but some!). The wider community is starting to accept/trust ‘us’ and by having this girl lie it makes us look like a bunch of big-fat-pinnochio-liars. And bam- there dissappears that lovely-smushy-nice-and-happy-trust.
    Im sure we all know that some ladies just luuurrrve to lie. People lie about all sorts of shit, be it harmless, silly little lies or big ones. About not knowing about their “surprise birthday party”, why they can’t come into work, who they are sleeping with, why there is a big arse bruise on their face.
    As a survivor of rape (dont you dare call me a victim- or I will cyber-punch you!) I have met women who have lied about being abused. F**k knows why they would lie about that and it shits me to tears….but they do. And I have to agree with what Riese said about the lie becoming their truth, and that it may seem too hard to ‘undo’ what has been said/done.

    Anyway thats my 2cents. Hopefully I said something useful and didnt just blab about nothing!!
    Keep smilin
    -t

  5. Kentucky Equality Federation is a wonderful organization. Do you want to know why other gay organization in Kentucky do not like them? Because they do for free what the others charge you for, they are paid large salaries.

  6. I’m really glad y’all wrote this article, because gay media seems to forget sometimes that straight people aren’t the only ones capable of doing questionable things. I’ve always known Autostraddle was special.

    This reminds me of something that happened last year at my school, when the openly gay chair of College Republicans (I know, right?) was deposed. He cried discrimination, and the LGBT center immediately took up his cause despite the fact that he had never gotten involved with their events and they did not know him personally. There were lots of angry editorials in the school paper (and even some attention at the national level), all talking about how the kid had been wronged and how it’s incredible discrimination like that can still exist in this day and age at so liberal a school.

    The judiciary was called in, and they ruled that the claim of discrimination was invalid. I have no idea how things actually went down, but I’m inclined to accept their decision. Here’s why:

    Evidence showed that the dude was a shitty chair. He hadn’t been fulfilling his responsibilities, and was accused of using club funds to buy personal stuff. He was also, interestingly enough, out and proud long before he was elected to his position.

    It’s certainly possible that his being gay affected what happened. There was no real evidence of it though, and I think that has to be the decider. Hearsay isn’t enough when you’re talking about a thing as serious as discrimination.

    We should, of course, take every claim of discrimination seriously until we have reason not too. I think it might be beneficial though if we could follow our sympathies a little less blindly.

    People defended this person because he was gay, not because they knew and trusted him, not because facts suggested he was telling the truth. People seem to be doing the same thing with Cheyenne Williams. Regardless of how her case turns out, that’s not a great way to further the cause of equality.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!