Lawyer: No proof for rape charge in bullying case

AP News
Posted: Feb 22, 2011 7:20 PM
Lawyer: No proof for rape charge in bullying case

The lawyer for a former high school student charged with statutory rape in connection with the suicide of a classmate in a high-profile bullying case said Tuesday that prosecutors have failed to present evidence to support their allegations.

Terry Dunphy, who is seeking dismissal of the case against 19-year-old Austin Renaud, a former South Hadley High School student charged with raping 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, said second-hand talk claims his client had sex with the girl. Renaud denies having had sex with Phoebe.

Prosecutor Steven Gagne told Northampton Superior Court Judge Mary Lou Rup that it was not hearsay, but gave no additional details.

Rup ordered prosecutors to return with more details from the grand jury later this week and Dunphy will respond next week.

"I think it's a matter that needs to be clarified, at least," Rup said.

Speaking to reporters after the brief court session, prosecutor Thomas Townsend said there is a question about whether Phoebe's date of birth was given to the grand jury last year. If Phoebe's age at the time was not clear to authorities, it could be grounds for dismissal because it's necessary to prove statutory rape, he said.

Townsend did not answer a question about when the rape is said to have occurred. He said it will be provided in papers submitted later this week.

But Dunphy said more information needs to be made available, particularly the circumstances surrounding the alleged sexual contact.

"They haven't explained where it happened, when it happened," he said. "There's a real question as to whether anything ever took place as far as Mr. Renaud is concerned."

He said a person he would not identify made a "single statement" that Renaud claimed to have had sex with Phoebe, but Dunphy said the assertion is not credible.

"Sometimes guys claim victories in games that were never played," he said. "It's hardly something you want to take to the bank."

Prosecutors say Phoebe was bullied relentlessly by Renaud's ex-girlfriend and four other students. Phoebe hanged herself in January 2010.

Five other students have been charged in the case.

Her death, one of several high-profile suicides related to bullying, sparked national discussions about the need to intervene, protect students and punish their alleged tormenters.

Renaud is not charged with bullying Phoebe. Dunphy has said Renaud considered Phoebe a friend, and that he tried in vain to help as the bullying escalated.

He cut off contact with his ex-girlfriend and the other students long ago, Dunphy said.