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Sheriff to young woman's supporters: Teen sex case is about age, not gay rights

By Ed Payne, CNN
updated 7:17 AM EDT, Thu May 23, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Supporters of Kaitlyn Hunt, 18, say she's being prosecuted for having a same-sex relationship
  • But Florida law says a 14-year-old can't consent to a sexual relationship with an adult
  • Indian River County sheriff says charges have nothing to do with it being a same-sex relationship
  • Prosecutors are offering a plea deal that includes monitoring

(CNN) -- Kaitlyn Hunt's supporters say she is being prosecuted because she was in a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex. Authorities say it isn't a gay rights issue at all, but rather a simple case of an adult inappropriately involved with a minor.

As public outrage mounts, fueled by Internet activism, 18-year-old Hunt has until Friday to decide whether she'll accept a plea deal or go to trial for her relationship with a 14-year-old schoolmate.

Hunt is charged with two felony counts of lewd and lascivious battery in the relationship that the young woman and her parents say was consensual. The students attended Sebastian River High School in Sebastian, Florida,

While some of the 150,000 people signing an online petition asking prosecutors to drop the case have suggested that it's being handled differently because it involves a same-sex relationship, Indian River County Sheriff Deryl Loar said that has nothing to do with it.

"If this was an 18-year-old male and that was a 14-year-old girl, it would have been prosecuted the same way," he said.

CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin concurs, saying whether the people involved are same-sex or opposite-sex, the legal issues are the same.

"A kid, a child under the age of 16, cannot consent to having sexual relations with an 18-year-old, an adult under the eyes of the law," she said. "And that really is all this case comes down to when you look at it legally."

The Indian River State Attorney's Office has offered a plea deal that would reduce the charges to third-degree child abuse. As part of the package, she would get a year of probation and two years of monitoring, meaning she would have to wear an ankle bracelet.

It would be up to a judge to decide if she would be labeled a felon as she moves forward in life.

Her lawyer, Julia Graves, is asking that "common sense" prevail and that the charges be reduced to a misdemeanor.

"This is a life sentence for behavior that is all too common, whether male, female, gay, straight," Graves said at a Wednesday news conference. "High school relationships may be fleeting, but felony convictions are forever."

Charles Sullivan, an attorney for the 14-year-old, told CNN affiliate WPTV that the plea deal is fair.

"It takes into account the seriousness of the offense. It takes into account that it's a violation of Florida law," he said. "The plea offer allows her to enter a plea that she will not go to jail and she will not be labeled as a sex offender, so there's no argument that her life is being ruined by this plea offer."

A sometimes tearful Hunt said the whole thing frightens her.

"I'm scared of losing my life, the rest of my life, and not being able to go to college or be around kids, be around my sisters and my family," she said, acknowledging the whirlwind that has surrounded her since the family went public with the story. "Definitely overwhelming to say the least. ... Just kind of hopeful, hopeful for the best."

Prosecutors have said they will not bend on the plea deal.

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