A Massachusetts judge on Tuesday scheduled a March trial for a teenager accused of having sexual contact with a younger classmate, who hanged herself after what prosecutors call relentless bullying from the teen's ex-girlfriend and four other students.
Austin Renaud, 18, is charged with the statutory rape of Phoebe Prince, a South Hadley High School freshman who was 15 when she committed suicide in January. Renaud has pleaded not guilty.
Prince's death, one of several high-profile suicides related to bullying, sparked national discussions about the need to intervene against bullying, protect students and punish their alleged tormenters.
Renaud is not charged with bullying Prince. His attorney said Renaud considered Prince a friend, and that he tried in vain to help as the bullying escalated before her suicide.
He cut off contact with his ex-girlfriend and the other students long ago, attorney Terrence Dunphy said.
"As you can see, he was not one of the ones involved with the stalking, the bullying, the abuse or anything else," Dunphy said, describing Renaud as a quiet and respectful teen.
Renaud did not comment at Tuesday's hearing in Hampshire Superior Court. Prince's aunt also attended and left afterward without commenting.
Prosecutors charged all six teens after an investigation into Prince's suicide, which they say occurred after a particularly brutal day of bullying that followed months of verbal abuse and intimidation.
Five South Hadley students are charged with civil rights violations resulting in bodily injury. They are: Flannery Mullins, Sharon Velazquez and Ashley Longe, who were all 16; and Kayla Narey and her on-and-off boyfriend, Sean Mulveyhill, who were both 17.
Prosecutors say the girls were angry about Prince's relationships with Mulveyhill and Renaud. Renaud had dated Mullins before meeting Prince, a recent immigrant from Ireland.
Prosecutors say Prince was cornered in school, pelted with a beverage can, berated on Facebook and repeatedly called an "Irish whore" and "Irish slut."
On the day of her death, prosecutors say, one of the defendants used a particularly crude obscenity to list Prince's name on a library sign-in sheet, and others followed her home to taunt her as she cried.
Mullins and Velazquez also are charged with stalking, and Mulveyhill is also charged with statutory rape. They all have pleaded not guilty.
Renaud is not charged with anything related to stalking or harassing Prince, though his arrest was announced at the same time. Prosecutors have not disclosed what kind of evidence they plan to present at trial to support the statutory rape charge against him.
Dunphy said he couldn't elaborate on the details of the case because of protective orders that prohibit attorneys from discussing confidential information in documents they receive before trial.
If convicted of statutory rape, Renaud could face up to life in prison. He has been suspended indefinitely from South Hadley High, as were the other five students charged.
"It's a scary thing for a kid his age to be indicted in this type of crime," Dunphy said. "He's out of school and unable to complete his education at this point. He needs to get this resolved before he can get on with the rest of his life."