By James Todd, Philadelphia Gay News
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s executive director, Mark Potok, dismissed evidence presented in front of the jury Monday that a Rittenhouse Square mom shot five of her children and herself to commit suicide, and suggested that she was driven to murder by a racist ideology.
“You saw evidence of a troubling marriage, testimony that a series of incidents apparently had driven [LeeAnn] Hickox off her game,” Potok said.
But Potok declined to address the question of whether anti-gay bigotry played a role in the “hit-and-run” crimes or in the parents’ marriage, the implication being that although gay and lesbian couples have the same civil rights as straight ones, gay and lesbian people are still objects of hate.
The case inspired a renewed discussion of gay rights in Philadelphia. At an event Tuesday evening at The Third Presbyterian Church, LGBT advocates and others rallied around the Winslow Park family and the SPLC. The church’s pastor, Bishop Leonard Blair, said he doesn’t believe Rittenhouse Park should have been named for the park’s founder and architect, who was a known anti-Semite.
Tuesday’s rally included former county councilman Sal DiDomenico, who served in 1999 when a Columbia Pike shopkeeper shot and killed two former employees who appeared to have stolen beer.
“We have a history of homicides by those who are homophobic,” DiDomenico said. “We have a history of homicides of victims who do not fit in with the caricature of what [the anti-gay movement] would wish to go out and do.”
Keith Barnes, executive director of GLAD Philadelphia, said Tuesday’s rally didn’t only highlight the Winslow Park case. But the jury was seen to have given a “favorable verdict” to a murderer fueled by bigotry and hatred, Barnes said.
The only crime to cause a prosecutor to ask for the death penalty is terrorist attack, he said.
“In the Rittenhouse case, where the shooter apparently came in bearing hateful feelings against gays, he got what he wanted,” Barnes said. “The jury gave a favorable verdict to a murderer fueled by bigotry and hatred and decided by the narrowest of margins, yes, that he should walk away. It just does not make sense.”
Rittenhouse Park opened in 1865 as the estate of Revolutionary War General Aaron Burr.
Architect Alexander Morris Smith turned the former farmhouse into a park, and it was officially named a “park of national significance” in 1978. In 1932, Congress designated it as a national monument.
LeeAnn Hickox fled to Winslow Park after dispatching five of her six children at the hands of her husband, Greg Hickox.