BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
More than 85,000 supporters since Friday have signed an Internet petition demanding felony sex charges be dropped against an 18-year-old lesbian who dated a 14-year-old high-school basketball teammate.
Kaitlyn Hunt of Indian River County is charged with two felony counts of lewd and lascivious battery on a child 12 to 16 years old. If convicted, she would be sentenced from probation to 15 years in prison and registered as a sex offender.
Hunt turned 18 on Aug. 14, 2012. She and a 14-year-old classmate, known as C.S., began dating in November. They first had consensual sex just before Christmas in a bathroom at Sebastian River High School. The relationship continued through February, according to an arrest affidavit.
“It’s outrageous that a law intended to stop adults from preying on children is being used to destroy a high school senior’s life,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, the state’s largest gay-rights group. “These are schoolmates, teammates. I suppose every school in Florida should start letting high school seniors know they can face 15 years in prison if they turn 18 before the school year is up.”
Indian River sheriff’s deputies showed up at Hunt’s home on Feb. 16, according to her mother.
“My husband answered the door and they asked for my daughter. She wasn’t home at the time,” Kelley Hunt Smith told The Miami Herald on Monday. “They refused to tell my husband anything. They said it was no big deal, it was just something that happened in school.”
Smith said that when her daughter arrived home, deputies handcuffed and arrested her.
“I flipped out, my husband flipped out, my other daughter was crying hysterically,” she said. “I can’t wrap my head around how they could prosecute an 18-year-old for a felony that carries 15 years in prison. She’s scared to death and trusting her parents. We’ve done everything we can to protect her. We’re doing our best.”
At the sheriff’s office, deputies read Hunt her Miranda rights and she told them about her relationship with C.S. “Your affiant asked Kaitlyn if she knew it was wrong to have sex with C.S. due to C.S. being 14 years old. Kaitlyn stated that she did not think about it because C.S. acted older,” detective Jeremy Shepherd wrote in his report.
Hunt's friends and family set up a Facebook page, called "Free Kate."
“When the girls' basketball coach found out that two of her players were dating, she kicked Kaitlyn off the team and informed her girlfriend's parents that their daughter was in a same-sex relationship," the page reads. "The parents then conspired with police to entrap Kaitlyn and press charges."
According to the group, which now has more than 25,000 members, the Indian River County School Board expelled Hunt from Sebastian River and transferred her to an alternative school.
On Friday, Hunt’s friends began an online petition at Change.org, “Stop the prosecution of an 18 year old girl in a same-sex relationship.”
Within 24 hours, the nonpartisan campaign website collected 57,414 from all over the world, said Jon Perri, Change.org’s deputy campaign director.
“It’s definitely one of the fastest. Most petitions don’t get this sort of attention so quickly,” Perri said. “I don’t like to use the word viral, but this is viral. It’s being shared on Facebook, the media and Twitter. That’s what’s driving traffic.”
In Florida, the legal age of sexual consent is 18. In 2007, the state adopted a “Romeo and Juliet” law that would keep 18 year olds from being registered as sex offenders if they had consensual sex with classmates age 15 or older.
Hunt doesn’t qualify because her girlfriend was 14 at the time they had sex, Indian River State Attorney Bruce Colton said Monday.
C.S. turned 15 in April, according to Hunt’s mother.
“She looks a lot older and she’s bigger than my daughter,” Smith said. “She’s in school and goes to classes with upperclassmen.”
A month ago Colton’s office offered Hunt a plea deal, which she must accept by Friday.
Hunt would plead guilty to third-degree child abuse, face up to five years in prison and not have to register as a sex offender, Colton said.
“The plea offer is that we, the state, would recommend two years of community control, plus one year of probation,” he said, adding that his office “would stand silent” whether Hunt is adjudicated guilty.
Many Change.org signers say Hunt is being treated unfairly because she is a lesbian.
“Being gay and in a same-sex relationship, I find this ridiculous and appalling,” wrote Nathan Johnstone of Melbourne, Fla. “I highly doubt this would be happening in if it were a ’traditional’ relationship.”
Untrue, Colton said.
“People are saying it’s being singled out because it’s a gay relationship and that has nothing to do with it,” Colton said. “It has no bearing on whether it is two girls or two boys, or an older boy and a younger girl or an older girl and a younger boy. Whatever the combination, it doesn’t matter.”