Steward Butler, a former Marshall University football player, was indicted by a grand jury on two felony civil rights violations in West Virginia following an alleged attack on two gay men he saw kissing.

Butler … allegedly hit the two men, Zackery Johnson and Casey Williams, on April 5, after he saw them kiss at Fifth Avenue and Ninth Street, in Huntington, according to a criminal complaint filed in Cabell County Magistrate Court. The complaint states that Butler, who was the passenger in a passing vehicle, got out of the vehicle, shouted derogatory words related to their sexual orientation, and then punched both men in the face.

A Cabell County grand jury indicted Butler on two felony counts of violating an individual's civil rights and two counts of misdemeanor battery, according to records unsealed Friday afternoon.

West Virginia's hate crimes statute does not include sexual orientation, but the prosecutor in the case told the Charleston Gazette-Mail why the indictment was brought under that law:

Prosecutor Sean "Corky" Hammers said his office charged Butler with a hate crime anyway, based on sex instead of sexual orientation, because prosecutors believe Butler wouldn't have committed the crime if one of the members of the couple had been a woman. "The case needed some serious consideration because of what he did," Hammers said.

Hammers said there is legal precedence that supports the strategy. "I couldn't let it go with misdemeanor battery, based on his actions," he said.

The difference in penalties if convicted is stark based on the charge. If convicted for violating the men's civil rights, Butler faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000 on each count. In contrast, each conviction on battery is a year in jail and a $500 fine.
After being arrested, Butler was kicked off the team. He was expected to be one of the team's top running backs this season.

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