Today, Luke accepted a negotiated non-cooperating plea deal and was sentenced to two years in prison and eight years of probation. As a last minute addition to this plea deal, Judge Markle added that Luke was to be banned from the state of Georgia, save one county, for the duration of his probation. Luke was taken away from us to prison immediately after court.
This end to the case surprised many of us. It was only two weeks ago that we were alerted to the fact that Luke’s trial would begin this soon. After that notice, events continued to unfold rapidly and chaotically. The prosecution officially offered Luke this plea deal last Thursday. Luke was placed in a very difficult position, facing decades in prison if convicted by a jury. He decided not to risk such a long sentence, but rather to accept the manageable sentence of two years in prison, and eight years of probation.
For those who are unfamiliar with plea deals, the conditions of a plea are negotiated between the prosecution and the defense prior to court. The judge is expected to sentence the defendant according to those agreed upon conditions, but has the ability to alter that sentence once the defendant has entered a guilty plea. If the judge’s sentence is different from the agreed upon conditions, the defendant then has the opportunity to change his plea and take the case to trial.
When Luke and more than fifty of his supporters entered court together this morning, we expected Luke to be taken away on the negotiated conditions. The prosecution began with an articulation of the incident from their point of view, which included equating the word “faggot” with the “non-offensive” sentiment “babies”, and painting Luke as a malevolent aggressor. Following this, Luke’s attackers and their family members were given time to speak. Three of the attackers spoke extensively about their medical conditions following the New Year’s incident. Their mothers then went on the stand to appeal to the judge for a harsher sentence. Throughout, the prosecution indignantly dismissed the portrayal of the incident as a queer-bashing. The crux of this trial centers on whether or not Luke was queer-bashed. While the prosecution maintains that Luke’s attackers aren’t homophobic, a recent video showing one of the “victims” standing by, laughing, while a transwoman was beaten in Little 5 Points reveals their true character.
When the time for sentencing came, Judge Markle revealed what side he was on: not ours. He went so far as to explicitly state that he was “having second thoughts” as to whether he should have allowed the plea deal at all. The two years of prison time that Luke will serve is remarkably low given the 110 years of prison he faced. The judge said that he allowed the plea deal only because he had previously stated that he would back whatever agreement the defense and prosecution made. Judge Markle then sentenced Luke to the pre-negotiated plea, but added several conditions: According to Judge Markle, following his prison time, Luke will be banned from the state of Georgia, with the exception of Screven County; his probation cannot be terminated early at any point; he is not eligible for non-reporting probation; any probation violations are to be referred to Judge Markle; and Luke will be forced to undergo weekly drug and alcohol tests for the full eight years. While Luke could have chosen at this point to change his plea and move on with a trial, he chose to enter into the prison system under Judge Markle’s stipulations.
We understand Judge Markle’s addition of harsher conditions as a direct attempt to intimidate Luke out of the plea deal and into a trial, which would have carried with it the risk of 110 years of prison time. We understand Luke’s acceptance of the plea deal and his admission of guilt as the direct result of coercion by the State. Furthermore, we understand the banishment from the state of Georgia as a direct attempt by the judge to separate Luke from the power and strength of his supporters. The fact that Luke is surrounded by an impressive community of support was absolutely obvious to anyone in court today, including the judge. There wasn’t a single spare seat in the sections set aside for Luke’s supporters. It is the role of the state to separate each of us from one another, and the judge was clearly interested in extending his reach as far into Luke’s life as possible — not only will Luke be separated from us in prison, he will be separated from those of us in Atlanta for many years after his release.
We are deeply saddened by the fact that Luke was taken away from us. As always, we believe that Luke is not guilty of the crimes with which he has been charged. Nevertheless, as Luke remains strong on the inside, we will do our best to remain strong on the outside. For us, this means that we will continue to support Luke in every way possible, including continuing the struggle against the greater social context that allows events like the attack on Luke to occur daily. He has asked that we publish the following statement on his behalf:
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.
Luke will enter the prison system first at Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, GA, where he will spend the first thirty to sixty days of his sentence. He will then be transferred to Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, GA for between thirty and sixty days, during which his long-term location will be determined. Luke will serve out the remainder of his sentence — between twenty and twenty two months — at a location that is yet unknown to us.
Going forward, our support and yours will be needed in a number of ways:
– We need to raise a large amount of money over the next two years. Because he has chosen to remain vegan while in prison, Luke will need as much commissary as possible in order to purchase extra food. He will also need money for telephone calls, stamps, and other amenities. We encourage everyone to choose a recurring donation, as we will need to send him money every week. You can donate here.
– Please, please, please write to Luke. One of the worst parts of prison is the isolation, so we must do everything we can to keep him as connected to his community and supporters as possible. We encourage folks to organize letter writing nights so they can write to Luke (and other prisoners if they so choose) together. He will appreciate all supportive communication he gets. We will release his address at Fulton County Jail as soon as we get it. Please keep in mind that he will be transferred twice in the next six months, so his address will change. We will post updated addresses as soon as we get that information.
– Luke has compiled a list of books that he would like to receive. [We will link to this list as soon as it is online.] These books must be sent from a publisher, so you can order them on Amazon or an online publishing/bookselling site. Please keep in mind that Luke may not be able to take his books with him during his transfer from one facility to the next, so we will need to send him books at various points over the next two years.
Thank you for all of your support. We will continue to update everyone with all new information we receive.
In love and in rage,
the support luke defense committee