A lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on.
In May 2013 a social media campaign was created to garner media attention and build a base of support for Kaitlyn Hunt, an 18 year old woman charged with felony acts involving sexual activity with a 14 year old minor. The "Stop the Hate - Free Kate" campaign worked, finding an international audience and driving hundreds of thousands of people to sign a petition in support of Kaitlyn within days, before the actual facts of the case began to come to light.
On the strength of the Hunt family narrative alone, a base of tens of thousands of supporters joined the Free Kate Facebook group and donated tens of thousands of dollars.
My intent is to present here the facts of the case clearly as a reference, as well as provide some of my own thoughts and concerns on the Free Kate movement.
We have reached out to Kaitlyn Hunt's attorney's office through their website, as well as multiple emails to the Hunt family themselves, as well as several open invitations extended to the Hunt family and their supporters online to give opportunity for anyone to correct the record on anything on this site that factually inaccurate. We welcome anyone interested in fact-checking this site and providing documentation proving where the content here is mistaken.
Despite receiving no response at all from the Hunt family or their attorney to correct the record, Kelley Hunt Smith has on at least two occasions accused this site of lying without backing that claim up with any evidence. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and I welcome any corrections Mrs. Hunt Smith, her family or her supporters can back up with something more substantial than "because Kelley says so"
I do not expect anyone to believe anything on this site simply at my insistence; I provide references to all source material for each of the facts I list here for this reason. I encourage everyone to do their own homework, review the relevant documents and the statements made by the Hunt family, apply critical thought and come up with your own conclusions.
We back up facts with solid documented proof. We think it would be awesome if Kelley Hunt Smith would do the same.
The social media campaign kicked off with this open letter written by Kelley Hunt Smith and shared virally among early supporters. In it a number of assertions are made:
"At the beginning of this school year, she started dating a fellow student, who happened to be another female. This girl also played varsity sports, was in the IB program, so she was in classes with upperclassman. There was an age difference between my daughter and the other girl, of 3 years, my daughter was older, however you would have thought it was the opposite by just looking at the girls."
What we know now: The age difference between Kaitlyn and her young victim is closer to four years than three. Kaitlyn Hunt turned 18 years old on 14 August 2012, six days before the school year began. The victim was 14 until her birthday in late April 2013, making the age gap more than 3 years 8 months.
This version of the timeline for the start of the dating relationship ("at the beginning of the school year") is the first in the shifting account provided by the Hunt family, sometimes as early as August/September and sometimes as late as November/December.
"On Saturday February 16th our families world was shattered and our daughters nightmare begun. The police came to our home and arrested my daughter, put her in hand cuffs and we had no idea why. They refused to tell us anything at first because she had turned 18. Kate was ripped out of our arms, terrified, crying hysterically."
What we know now: The picture being painted here of a family at home together being suddenly torn apart after an unexpected knock on the door is bit different than the account provided by the Sheriff's office in their case report. Detective Jeremy Shepherd writes: "Her stepfather answered the door and advised she was not home. He wanted to know what I was there for and I advised him I would tell him when she was present...I made contact with Kaitlyn on her cell phone. She advised she was driving home...I responded back to Kaitlyn's residence at approximately 1400 hours. I made contact with Kaitlyn at approximately 1415 hours and placed her under arrest. I informed Kailtyn's stepfather and mother of the charge I was arresting Kaitlyn for."
"My heart dropped, I knew then that it had to have been her girlfriend's parents, James and Laurie Smith. These people never came to us as parents, never tried to speak to us, didn’t try to get the school involved to speak to us and tell us they had a problem with the girls dating, not one single word. Instead, they set out their vengeance and had my child arrested on FELONY charges."
What we know now: While there's no indication that the victim's parents themselves spoke to Kelley Hunt Smith, documents released later confirm that the victim's cousin Shanne discussed the relationship with Kaitlyn Hunt via Facebook in early January. In their conversation, both Shanne and Kaitlyn recognize the relationship was inappropriate; Shanne urged Kailtyn to drop communication with the victim, warning her that "when her parents find out I know they will press charges." Kaitlyn seems to agree to the request.
"This was unusual for Kate, she has always dated boys, but being the kind of mother I am, I didn’t want to make it a big deal. I talked to her about it, and figured it was just a social thing, times have changed and a lot of kids are experimenting, so I didn’t make much of it....They were out to destroy my daughter, they feel like my daughter “made” their daughter gay. They are bigoted, religious zeolites that see being gay as a sin and wrong, and they blame my daughter. Of course I see it 100% different. I don’t see or label these girls as gay. They are teenagers in high school experimenting with their sexuality, all teens do it in one form or another. They are teens, its healthy and normal. And even if their daughter is gay, who cares, she is still their daughter."
What we know now: In documents later acquired via a Freedom of Information Act request by those questioning the Free Kate narrative, it was revealed the Kelley Hunt Smith herself had conversations with the 14 year old victim where she expressed her feelings regarding same-sex relationships. "I 100% never supported this and I told Kate that. I am a Christian and have a faith in God, so for me I don't believe it's right or what god intended. But, I have a cousin who recently came out being lesbian and I don't love her any less. I hope that makes sense to u. But I told Kate I didn't approve. I told her I didn't feel like she was gay, and I felt like she needed to go talk to a counselor about her issues with her Dad, I told her that you were too young to be having this type of relationship and that I didn't think it was healthy." This is inconsistent with the story she later gave in her open letter.
"These girls are teenagers in high school, who had ONE mutual consenting sexual experience. My daughter isn’t a criminal, she isn’t a predator."
What we know now: As per the arrest affidavit, there were at least three sexual experiences between Kaitlyn and her victim prior to her arrest, including two encounters in a school bathroom and one overnight visit at Kaitlyn's house. We also now know from the details in the Notice of Violation of Conditions of Pretrial Release that other students were present in the bathroom with them during these sexual encounters.
Coaxing a 14 year old out of class during the school day to engage in sexual activity in a bathroom stall amongst the peer pressure of other students could be considered predatory behavior by reasonable people.
We also now know from the same court filings that after Kaitlyn's arrest, she continued her illegal sexual relationship and arranged more encounters with the victim in direct violation of two court orders to avoid all contact with the victim.
Problems with lying: Furthermore, as we've learned from the documents acquired from investigators via the FOIA request, a text message conversation between Kelley Hunt Smith and the 14 year old victim reveal that Kaitlyn's mother herself sees a manipulative streak in her daughter. "Sweetie I hate to tell u this, but Kate has some issues, especially with lying."
Victim tried to break it off: From the same documents, it appears that the 14 year old victim attempted to end the relationship, and was threatened by Kaitlyn as a result.
This is inconsistent with the image of Kailtyn Hunt later portrayed by Kelley Hunt Smith while soliciting support and donations for the Free Kate movement.
Steven Hunt created a petition to drive support for the Free Kate movement. The text of the petition (as archived in late June) reads as follows:
What we know now: Steven Hunt misrepresent the age of the victim here, stating she is prosecuted because she has a girlfriend who is 15; however, at the time Kaitlyn's arrest the victim was still 14 years old, and all charges against Kaitlyn at that time were for sexual activity with a 14 year old.
Steven Hunt misrepresents the age of his own daughter here, stating that they began dating when Kaitlyn was 17. Since Kaitlyn was 18 prior to the start of the school year, this timeline would have been impossible.
Steven claims the victim's parents waited for Kaitlyn to turn 18 to have charges brought against her; again, this timeline would have been impossible. This fabrication is among the most quoted pieces of Hunt family misinformation by their supporters.
NOTE: The text of the petition has since been quietly altered (subsequent to collecting of hundreds of thousands of signatures based on the original Hunt narrative) to reflect a more honest version of events; however, the original text has been archived online (June 24, 2013) and remains accessible through search engines as it had been duplicated on supporters' websites.
The social media campaign continued with this article written by Steven Hunt to solicit support for the Free Kate campaign. In it he writes:
"My daughter, Kaitlyn, was in a romantic relationship with a student at her school who was also a teammate on the basketball team...Kate's girlfriend was a freshman student enrolled in international baccalaureate courses with upperclassmen and a fellow player on the basketball team with Kate...my own daughter was removed from a sport she loves simply because she was in a relationship with another "student.""
What we know now: According to the Sheriff's office investigation, Kaitlyn was never a member of the basketball team. "She did not make the team, but asked if she could work out with the team, so [Coach Teri Amy] allowed her to." Furthermore, Kaitlyn's relationship with the victim did not play a part in her removal from working out with the team. "Teri asked her to not come back due to Kaitlyn causing drama with some of the girls on the team. Teri stated that it had nothing to do with [the victim]. She said that she did not know about this incident at the time."
"While Kate was three years older than her girlfriend, they were peers. But when Kate's girlfriend's parents learned of their relationship, they went directly to the police to press charges without sharing their objections with Kate or her family."
What we know now: As with the open letter above, the age difference is actually closer to four years and is being misrepresented here. Also as covered above, at least one member of the victim's family shared their objections with Kaitlyn.
"The police taped a conversation between Kate and her girlfriend, which led to Kate's arrest...Kate's girlfriend has taken no part in her prosecution and adamantly denies she is a victim"
What we know now: As per the arrest affidavit, we know the conversation that was recorded was a controlled phone call requested by detectives, which the 14 year old victim helped stage.
NOTE: Bizarrely, after 4 months elapsed since the xojane.com article was published, Steven Hunt has decided to begin publicly denying he authored it (screenshot; Facebook thread removed shortly thereafter). No explanation has yet been given why the change.org petition, which was also authored by Steven, contained the same misinformation as the xojane article.
The "Free Kate" Facebook group description (as of 5/24/13) began the narrative this way:
"As the summer of 2012 came to an end, the future looked bright for 17-year-old Sebastian River High School senior Kaitlyn Hunt."
Strangely, the age of 17 is specifically cited here, despite Kaitlyn being 18 on the first day of school and when the relationship later started. This is part of the basis for much of the confusion regarding over Kaitlyn's age.
"The parents ... conspired with police to entrap Kaitlyn and press charges."
Here the term "entrap" is used, even though no entrapment took place. The term is defined as "a defense that claims the defendant would not have broken the law if not tricked into doing it by law enforcement officials" - but in this case the law was already broken. What law enforcement actually engaged in at that time is routine detective work in order to confirm or discount the victim's statements. As per the Legal Update website:
"The police recorded a phone conversation between the two girls, who today are 18 and 15, in which they discussed their relationship"
Here, bizarrely, the current age of the younger girl is included, even though it has no relevance to the case. This is part of the basis for much of the confusion regarding the victim's age.
"The law is designed to protect our children, but the law does not serve its purpose when it is applied to consensual behavior between peers."
This suggests the law is being misapplied; however, the law is flexible enough to permit sexual activity between young adults ages 16 and 23. Since the law does allow for a degree of "wiggle room" in such cases (18 year old would not be charged for sexual activity with a 16 year old, while a 24 year old would be) it cannot be logically claimed the law is being misapplied in this case. Kaitlyn's offense simply fell far outside this wiggle room, as a 14 or 15 year old cannot under any circumstance engage in legal sexual activity.
Within the Free Kate group, Kailtyn's parents continued to mislead their supporters:
According to Kaitlyn's mother, at some point between mid-January and mid-February Kaitlyn and the 14 year old girl stopped seeing each other. However, Kate continued her relationship with the victim for several months after her arrest. Prosecutors have evidence that, in direct opposition to 2 court orders forbidden contact with the victim, Kate continued a relationship of a sexual nature by sending explicit text messages, pics, video and arranging secret meetings with the younger girl between March and August. We also know from the filing that not only did the relationship continue, but Kelley Hunt Smith was aware that it had.
"Stop the Hate, Free Kate" T-shirts for sale were heavily promoted by Kelley Hunt Smith and Steven Hunt in the Free Kate Facebook group. While it had been previously stated by Steven Hunt and Kelley Hunt Smith that the money from the sale of these shirts would be used towards legal defense, Kelley Hunt Smith later stated the sale of the shirts "was never for legal fees" as the gofundme account was the only method for raising legal fee donations. This is a clear indication that money was raised under false pretenses.
During an appearance in court on September 25, 2013, Kaitlyn's attorney requested and was granted a continuance, moving the next docket call to November 21. When a record of this was uncovered by supporters in the Kate's Fight FB group, Kelley Hunt Smith claimed the defense requested this continuance because the prosecutor would be out of town for the next scheduled docket call and "nothing would be done" without him - apparently not realizing that this explanation makes absolutely no sense (it would be the prosecutor asking to postpone the proceding if that were true, not the defense). We contacted Kaitlyn Hunt's attorney's office and asked them the reason for the continuance; we were told by Attny Grave's office that it was due to depositions by the defense that are scheduled for October, contrary to Kelley's claims.
Within the Free Kate group, Kailtyn's parents fostered an environment of hate:
Despite the "Stop the Hate" tagline of the Free Kate movement, the Hunt family narrative added fuel to their supporters' resentment towards the victim's family. Despite the group guidelines forbidding attacking anyone including the victim's parents, these attacks were not uncommon and usually initiated by Steven Hunt and Kelley Hunt Smith themselves. When supporters wished for retribution against the victim's family, Kaitlyn's parents did nothing to discourage this violation of their own group rules; indeed this was encouraged as seen here "liked" by Kelley and her mother Andrea Aziza Booker-Gay.
It's worthwhile to note that the Hunt family come into this series of events with credibility problems of their own.
Steven R Hunt, Jr., Kaitlyn's father (who as we've seen has a tenuous connection to the truth) appears to have launched this movement by soliciting support and donations while still serving out a period of probation following a 2012 arrest for felony fraud charges. According to public records available online from the Indian River Country Circuit Court, the felony charge "832.041 - STOP PAY W INTENT TO DEFRAUD 150 DOLS OR MORE" resulted in an order on 7/23/12 of one year of probation and a fine. It appears that as a result of a "no contest" plea, the charges were reduced to a misdemeanor and adjudication was deferred pending the completion of his probation. (court record search, criminal judgment record (PDF))
Steven Hunt's felony fraud arrest followed other criminal charges over the course of the last decade. Steven's current wife (Kaitlyn's stepmother) has also been involved in promoting the Free Kate movement; she had also been charged in recent years with violent offenses.
Kelley Hunt Smith, Kaitlyn's mother, appears to have involved herself in the case by contacting the Kaitlyn's young victim on March 26 and joined Kaitlyn in instructing her to destroy evidence and lie about Kaitlyn's actions.
Kelley defended her actions on the Free Kate Facebook group by claiming there was no court-ordered prohibition on contacting the victim that applied to her.
Throughout the Free Kate campaign, the victim's parents have been under constant attack from Kaitlyn Hunt's family and their supporters.
It's helpful to remember that even now, still no evidence... no documentation, transcript or other verifiable record has been made public that contradicts anything in the statements by the victim's parents. All we have to go on is the account provided by the Hunt family, who have shown by their actions and words that they themselves are simply not credible, and we're just supposed to take them at the word when it comes to the light they wish to paint upon the Smiths.
In an online profile (screenshot, personal info redacted), the now-15-year-old victim herself describes her family this way:
In a series of Facebook posts (January 7, March 8, March 11, April 10) authored by the victim's mother, captured and posted on a blog (Amber's Cozy Nook, now defunct) by a supporter of Kaitlyn Hunt, a picture emerges of a loving mother struggling with the difficult choices a parent faces when doing their best to protect their child, even when the choice is an unpopular one. This flies in the face of the framing of Jim and Laurie put forth by Kelley Hunt Smith, who herself apparently takes a decidedly different approach to parenting, playing the part of the "cool" mom who encourages violence and obscenity in her children.
The Hunts consistently portrayed the victim's family as one of disfunction and abuse, but all available evidence (screenshot, late November 2013), much of it provided first-hand by the victim herself, runs contrary to the assertions made by the Hunt family. In personal accounts written both before Kaitlyn Hunt's involvement in her life and after, the young teenager writes of the admiration, respect and love she has for her parents and the "unconditional... nuturing" love her parents share with her and her siblings.
Kaitlyn Hunt was offered the first plea deal by prosecutors to a lesser charge of child abuse, which carries a reduced sentence. The plea deal was declined on 5/24/13, Kate Hunt pleaded not guilty and the following statement was issued by her attorneys:
This much is true: "If this case involved a boy and girl, there would be no media attention to this case." All of the media attention this case has received has been at the strong insistence of the Hunt family, based entirely on the fallacious account provided by them to frame this as a same-sex issue.
Again, the timeline and the law are confused this time by the Hunt family's legal representation, which appears to be suggesting a 17 year old can legally engage in consensual sexual relationship with a 14 year old ("If this incident occurred 108 days earlier when she was 17, we wouldn’t even be here").
We contacted the State Attorney in this case, Bruce Colton, and asked him to clarify how his office would typically handle a case of lewd or lascivious battery by a 17-year-old offender against a 14-year-old victim. His response:
So as a legal argument, the "108 day" argument is meaningless and dishonest. Either way, it's irrelevant because the fact of the matter is Kaitlyn Hunt was 18 years old when she (on multiple occasions) engaged in sexual activity with a 14 year old, the most recent of which occurred about 155 days after Kaitlyn Hunt's 18th birthday.
The plea deal would have allowed Kaitlyn to avoid serving any jail time. It also appears to have been an opportunity for Kaitlyn to avoid being placed on the state's sex offender registry, as the lesser charge of child abuse that was offered does not appear to be included in the list of offenses that require one to be placed on the registry. Turning down the plea offer was a risky (and arguably ill-advised) move; if convicted (of a crime to which she has already confessed to) at trial and is sentenced to jail time and/or listed on the sex offender registry, it will be because of her own choice to turn down the opportunity to avoid these punishments.
In late July or early August, a second plea offer was extend to Kaitlyn. According to offer, the terms include:
Assistant State Attorney Brian G. Workman writes in the text of the plea offer, "I believe this is a fair offer intended to protect the victim and her family while taking into account the defendant's future."
Kelley Hunt Smith responded to the plea offer this way:
The news of the plea offer and Kelley's reaction to it was all made public on August 14.
On August 15 the DA submited a court filing of Notice of Violation of Conditions of Pretrial Release. According to that filing, Hunt "consciously and intentionally" violated court orders while informing the young girl that should it become know they're talking that she will go to jail until her trial, and instructing her to "Keep the fuck quiet."
On August 19 it was reported that, in light of the new allegations, the second plea deal had been revoked by the prosecutor. During a hearing on August 20 it was determined that Kaitlyn's bond would be revoked, placing her in jail until her trial. In addition to the original charges filed in February, a felony charge against Kaitlyn was filed during the hearing with regards to the electronic transmission of harmful content (texts, images and video) to a minor following her arrest and in violation of the no-contact order.
A third plea offer was extended by the prosecution to Kaitlyn Hunt, which was formally accepted in court the morning of October 3rd. Under the terms of the offer, Kaitlyn Hunt remained in county jail until December 20. Kailtyn is now serving out the remainder of her sentence on probation, the terms of which are as follows:
Presumedly her family will be doing their best going forward to ensure Kaitlyn stays on the straight-and-narrow path towards completing the period of probation without any further legal trouble.
As the weight of evidence makes clear, the Hunt family is manipulating the facts in order to paint their effort as an LBGT rights crusade, taking advantage of those of us who believe in promoting equality while at the same time collecting tens of thousands of dollars for a "legal defense fund" from supporters who remain largely confused about the basic facts of the case.
In my opinion, this is tantamount to fraud... and THAT is the bigger story here. That Kaitlyn Hunt engaged in illegal sexual activity with a 14 year old girl is a big story in the media and focus of the movement, but it's not even the most unfortunate one. The bigger story is dishonesty and fraud. The bigger story is the demonization that's taking place of the victim's parents, of law enforcement, and the prosecutor... everyone but Kaitlyn Hunt... by those caught up in an emotional frenzy and operating entirely on a version of reality carefully tailored by the Hunt family.
That the Hunt family told self-contradictory and plainly false versions of the facts of the case is apparent and well-documented here. It's up to you to decide what their dishonesty means, but to me it's clear the Free Kate movement relied completely on the confusion and misdirection fostered by the Hunt family to manipulate supporters into an emotional response instead of relying on a fair, reasoned assessment. This movement would not have the support it has had the Hunt family conducted their effort with honesty and integrity, because the facts and the law are not on their side. Contrary to their claims, this is not a legal case based on hate, but...
... doesn't have the same ring to it, and leaves bare the truth that this is a case of a legal adult simply trying to avoid having to take responsibility for her own choices.
Fifteen will get you twenty is a well-known and often repeated maxim in teenage life, echoed in the halls of high schools and junior high schools across the country and through the generations. When this advice isn't heeded it isn't often because the offender didn't know the law, but because they didn't care and thought they could get away with it. We know Kaitlyn Hunt knew the law and broke it anyway, both before and after her arrest.
There are many defending Kaitlyn Hunt who argue that one doesn't suddenly become a wise adult on their 18th birthday... that the full development of maturity continues on into our twenties, and based on this there should be some leeway given to Kaitlyn. However, this argument proves exactly why age of consent laws are critical - if an 18 year old shouldn't be responsible for the grown-up decisions she makes about sexual activity, clearly a 14 year old isn't anywhere near the ballpark of the age in which she would be capable of making decisions about sex.
There are many defending Kaitlyn that feel a 14 year old ought to be able to consent to sexual relationships with an 18 year old. There are many suggesting that simply being in the same school necessarily makes them peers on the developmental scale. But there is a huge difference developmentally between a 14 year old and an 18 year old. There's a power differential there that can be (and is) exploited by older students.
To suggest that an age of consent law be stricken or reduced is to suggest that the parents of a 14 year old have no say in whether their child can be sexually active with an 18 year old. It would remove any legal recourse that parents now have as tools to protect their children in cases of real abuse. I'm not comfortable with that, and frankly I'm suspect of parents who feel a 14 year old is prepared to take that responsibility for the kinds of huge decisions that can easily destroy their lives.
The law here is clear, and Kaitlyn Hunt's legal case is open and shut. But like I said, I believe there's something even more important than the legal case at play here...
An entire movement of supporters is built around false pretenses, the consequences of which include the demonization of law enforcement officers, who by all objective measures did their job professionally... of prosecutors in the DA's office, who likewise are simply doing their job... and most importantly, demonization of the parents of a 14 year old girl, who had every right to leverage the law to protect their daughter the best they could.
Whether the parents of the victim believe they are protecting their daughter from homosexual influences or simply protecting their 14 year old from an 18 year old is beside the point. Maybe they're loving parents acting to protect their daughter. Maybe they hold the entirely reasonable and widespread belief that a 14 year old should not be sexually active. Maybe they foolishly feared Kaitlyn's influence would seed homosexuality in their daughter. Maybe they're bigots. Maybe reality is a combination of these things. Their motives for reporting the crime against their daughter is beside the point. No matter what they feel they're protecting their daughter from, they have both the legal right and moral responsibility to protect their daughter, and that's exactly what they did.
That the victim's parents become the biggest target of contempt because of the Hunt family's efforts is horrific. It's not just. That the basic truths of the case were wildly misrepresented by the Hunt family to do it make it that much more outrageous.
That manipulation was used to take advantage of a community full of generous people with good hearts who are ready to fight for equality is just as offensive. The dishonesty of the architects of the Free Kate campaign does damage to the credibility of the effort of legitimately persecuted people fighting against real abuse...
Not to mention the lives of the parents who fought to protect their daughter, and a 14 year old girl whose life will never be the same after becoming an unwitting participant in an international media firestorm that didn't need to happen. All of this... so an 18 year old doesn't have to accept the consequences of her own actions.