Death of Sean Kennedy

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Death of Sean Kennedy
LocationGreenville, South Carolina
DateMay 16, 2007
Attack type
Gay bashing
VictimsSean Kennedy

Sean W. Kennedy (April 8, 1987 – May 16, 2007) was a young gay American man who was severely punched by a younger man, Stephen Andrew Moller as Sean was leaving a bar in Greenville, South Carolina. The punch was so hard that it shattered his facial bones and separated his brain from his brain stem. He fell to the ground, and his killer drove off leaving Sean dying on the ground. Sean William Kennedy died 17 hours later of his fatal injuries.[1][2][3] This attack and Kennedy's death drew attention to South Carolina's lack of a hate crime law and is believed to have contributed to passage of the federal Hate Crime Prevention Act of 2009, for which his mother lobbied. Additionally, Moller served so little time "because of the lack of an applicable Violent Crime Law in South Carolina" at the time, according to the Judge, although this explanation was seen by the LGBT community as merely thinly veiled homophobia.

Stephen Andrew Moller pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in causing Kennedy's death. He was sentenced to five years, suspended to three years and counting time already served. He was released on parole July 1, 2009.


On May 16, 2007, at about 3:45 am, Kennedy was leaving a local bar in Greenville. A car pulled up beside him, and Moller got out and approached Kennedy. He punched him hard enough to break facial bones. Kennedy fell and hit the asphalt, resulting in his brain separating from his brain stem and ricocheting in his skull. Kennedy later died of his injuries.

Stephen Andrew Moller, age eighteen, was charged with involuntary manslaughter of Sean Kennedy. The warrant stated that the act was "a result of the defendant (Moller) not liking the sexual identity of the victim."[4]


In November 2007, Moller was released to home detention upon paying a $25,000 bond. He was required to stay with his mother until his trial.

The charge of murder was reduced to involuntary manslaughter because 1. there was no conscious premeditated desire to kill Kennedy and 2. the state law does not have a between murder and involuntary manslaughter. Unable to secure a conviction for murder, the prosecuting attorneys opted for involuntary manslaughter in order to get the violent activity onto Moller's record. The sentence carries a 0–5 years prison term, and Moller was released on July 1, 2009.[5]


On June 11, 2008, Moller appeared at a plea hearing (a no-jury trial). He pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to five years, suspended to three years,[6] including the 199 days he served in county jail before he was released on bond.[citation needed]

At the sentencing, Moller denied that his attack was a hate crime, claiming that he did not know Kennedy's sexual orientation prior to the attack. This explanation was contradicted by eyewitnesses.[7]

Moller received a 2-month credit for working on getting his GED and was released 7 days early on July 1, 2009, after having served 12 months in prison. All releases generally occur on the first of the month, according to the department of parole in South Carolina.[8] Moller was on probation for 3 years and ordered to take anger management classes, complete 30-days of community service, and to have regular alcohol/drug testing and counseling.[7]


At the time of Kennedy's death, South Carolina did not have a state hate crimes statute, and the federal hate crime legislation did not specifically cover LGBT people. Kennedy's death brought South Carolina's absence of any hate crime protection to national attention. As a result of his death, and the killing of a transgender teen shortly afterwards, Charleston State House representative Seth Whipper lobbied unsuccessfully to introduce state legislation.[9] "[10][11]

Elke Kennedy, Sean's mother, established the organization Sean's Last Wish Foundation two weeks after her son's death.[12] She spent two years campaigning for the passage of expanded federal hate crimes legislation. When the Hate Crime Prevention Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama on October 28, 2009, CNN interviewed Elke Kennedy, who attended the ceremony at the White House.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Smith, Gordon (2007-05-22). "Speech on The Matthew Shepard Act". Congressional Record. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-14.
  2. ^ Anderson, Claire (2007-06-03). "Family of dead man lobbies for hate-crime bill". The Greenville News. Retrieved 2007-06-15.[dead link]
  3. ^ "Who Was Sean William Kennedy?". Sean's Last Wish Foundation. Archived from the original on 2007-06-27. Retrieved 2007-06-15.
  4. ^ Paul Hyde, "Community rallies against hate, intolerance", Greenville News, 6 June 2007
  5. ^ Stephen Moller released week early | QNotes Gay Charlotte and LGBT Carolina News, Arts & Entertainment
  6. ^ Deadhead, Daisy (17 June 2008). "Gay-bashing trial: Sean Kennedy's life is only worth three years". Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  7. ^ a b Matt Corner (12 June 2008). "Moller to serve three years for killing". Q-Notes. Retrieved 25 December 2012.
  8. ^ Gay Man's Killer Released After 1 Year | WYFF Home - WYFF Home Archived 2009-07-06 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims, Stephen V. Sprinkle, Wipf and Stock Publishers, Jan 20, 2011
  10. ^ Hambrick, Greg. "North Charleston murder highlights absence of state hate crime law". Charleston City Paper. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  11. ^ "Without protection: Anti-gay hate crimes in the South spur calls for better state and federal laws". 8 January 2009. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  12. ^ "About the Foundation". Sean's Last Wish Foundation. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
  13. ^ "Two years after son's death, mother finds solace in hate crimes bill", CNN, 28 October 2009