The hate crime charges against former Marshall running back Steward Butler were dropped Friday.
Butler is accused of assaulting two gay men after seeing them kiss on a street corner in Huntington, West Virginia, last year. Butler was subsequently charged with two counts of felony civil rights violations and two counts of misdemeanor battery, but a state circuit court ruled Friday that instances of violence based on a person’s sexual orientation are not considered to be hate crimes.
In his ruling, Cabell County Circuit Court Judge Paul Farrell wrote that state lawmakers have never acted to protect sexual orientation under the state civil rights law.
Farrell wrote that his decision was partly "in light of the legislature's careful crafting of the statute at issue coupled with its repeated opportunities to amend it to include sexual orientation if it so desired."
The West Virginia law reads: "All persons within the boundaries of the state of West Virginia have the right to be free from any violence, or intimidation by threat of violence, committed against their persons or property because of their race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, political affiliation or sex."
Based on a review of other states' laws, Farrell wrote that "sex" and "sexual orientation" are two distinct categories of possible discrimination.
The battery charges against Butler, who was dismissed from the Marshall program just hours after his May 2015 arrest, still stand. Those charges say Butler witnessed the two men kiss while riding in a car. He allegedly then exited the vehicle, shouted homophobic slurs at the men and then proceeded to strike both men in the face with a closed fist.
Butler rushed for 2,063 yards and 18 touchdowns in his three seasons at Marshall.
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