Phoebe Prince Case Ends With Light Sentences For Teen Bullies

Illustration for article titled Phoebe Prince Case Ends With Light Sentences For Teen Bullies

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."


3 Ex-Students Get Probation In Bullying Linked To A Suicide [NYT]
"An Acknowledgement of Wrongdoing" [Slate]
DA Defends Light Sentences In Phoebe Prince Case [The Boston Globe]

Earlier: First Teen Gets Probation In Phoebe Prince Case

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Another commenter on Jezebel recommended a series of pieces on the Prince suicide published on Slate (by Emily O'Brien) and I have to say they were INCREDIBLY interesting and eye-opening about this case. Like oh so many others, I too was picked on to varying degrees by many people in high school for not being part of that elusive and small "popular" clique, and the reporting O'Brien did (which is very, very thorough) reveals Prince was subject to much the same that I was. Which is to say: We have seen other cases of students in high schools (or younger) being bullied above and beyond the normal highschool hivemind and driven to suicide through a relentless effort to shatter their self-worth in person and online. Prince was not subjected to this. She had a history of depression and mental illness, of cutting, was further emotionally crippled by the divorce of her parents and moving to America (separating her from her father, who still lived in Ireland). She was a vulnerable young woman, but to place the blame for her death squarely on these kids' shoulders doesn't seem fair or right to me. They certainly did not HELP the situation, but I couldn't find anything in the articles that showed a level of "bullying" that was in any way exceptional for the average non-popular high school student. Hell, I even put "bullying" in quotes because I'm not sure that's what these kids were actually doing.

That no one was able to prevent her suicide is certainly sad and tragic, but I don't think any one person, or group of people, triggered it either. She had friends, she had confidants, she had boyfriends, she had a normal high school life; she just also had some very serious problems that she could not overcome too. It's a shame the problems overwhelmed her; she seemed like a very promising young woman.

O'Brien also has some eye-opening info about the D.A. who prosecuted these kids in a way that many in their community find deeply suspect. She's a bend-the-law kind of D.A. it seems. I really highly recommend the Slate stories — exhaustively researched, well-written, very, very informative.