Today three former students charged with crimes related to 15-year-old Phoebe Prince's suicide last year were put on probation, and a statutory rape charge against another was dropped. The criminal case against those accused of bullying Prince to the point that she took her own life is for the most part over, but now some are complaining that the sentences are too lenient.
In hearings today Sharon Chanon Velazquez, Flannery Mullins and Ashley Longe, who attended South Hadley High School in Massachusetts with Prince, "admitted to sufficient facts" on misdemeanor charges of harassment and violating civil rights, The New York Times reports. Yesterday Kayla Narey took a similar plea deal, and Sean Mulveyhill pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal harassment. All were sentenced to probation and community service, and some will have their records cleared if they complete probation.
Austin Renaud had been charged with statutory rape for having sex with Prince when she was 15 and he was 18, but he wasn't accused of bullying her. District Attorney David Sullivan said today that the charge was being dismissed "upon the request of the O'Brien-Prince family and in the interests of justice."
Prince's mother, Anne O'Brien, made several heartbreaking statements during the hearing. According to Slate, O'Brien put much of the blame on Mulveyhill, who dated Prince while he had another girlfriend, then encouraged his female friends to harass her after ending their relationship. O'Brien said she was lied to about Mulveyhill's relationship with her daughter, and "If I'd known, I would have viewed his relationship with my daughter as predatory and I would have forbade her to see him." She also read one of Prince's final text messages to a friend, which read, "I think Sean condoning this is one of the final nails in my coffin. I can't take much more. It would be easier if he or any one of them, handed me a noose."
Yet, when the judge asked O'Brien if she supported the recommendation of the prosecution and the defense to give Mulveyhill and another defendant probation, she said yes. A prosecutor later explained that she was satisfied with the students acknowledging that the way they treated Prince was wrong.
From the time the charges were filed there's been disagreement over whether they were appropriate for a case of high school bullying. The Boston Globe reports that Sullivan defended the light sentences today, saying that Prince's family was "never looking for these teenagers to go to jail." He added, "They have paid the price in the media and public arena ... They will have this on their backs for their rest of their lives. Worse, they will have it on their conscience."