1 teen in Mass. bullying case still faces trial

AP News
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Posted: May 03, 2011 5:31 PM
1 teen in Mass. bullying case still faces trial

When six teenagers were charged after a girl's suicide, prosecutors said she killed herself following a months-long bullying campaign by five of them.

This week, those five are expected to resolve their cases in plea agreements with prosecutors. Only one still faces trial in the case _ the one who wasn't charged with bullying 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, whose death drew international attention and was among several high-profile teen suicides that led to new laws aimed at cracking down on bullying in schools.

Austin Renaud, now 19, is accused of having sexual contact with the underage Prince and is charged with statutory rape. Unlike the other teens, who faced multiple charges and are expected to each plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge, Renaud has only one charge against him.

Renaud's lawyer, Terrence Dunphy, said he has not been approached by prosecutors about resolving the case against his client.

"I haven't spoken about a settlement or disposition of Mr. Renaud's case with prosecutors," he said Tuesday.

Prince, who had moved from Ireland, hanged herself in January 2010 in her family's apartment in South Hadley, about 100 miles west of Boston.

Prosecutors said Flannery Mullins, Sharon Chanon Velazquez and Ashley Longe began harassing Prince at school and on Facebook because she had a brief relationship with Renaud, who had dated Mullins.

Mullins, Velazquez, Longe, Kayla Narey and Sean Mulveyhill were charged with civil rights violations resulting in bodily injury, and they pleaded not guilty. Mulveyhill, who also dated Prince, was Narey's on-and-off boyfriend.

Prosecutors say Prince repeatedly was called an "Irish whore" and an "Irish slut" and was threatened with beatings in school.

On the day of Prince's death, one of the defendants used an obscenity to list her name on a school library sign-in sheet, and others followed her home, taunting her as she cried.

A lawyer for Velazquez filed documents in court last week indicating a plea agreement had been reached with prosecutors. A person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press that all five teens have agreed to plead guilty to the charge of criminal harassment in exchange for prosecutors dropping the more serious charges against them. The person was not authorized to speak publicly about the case and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The agreements are expected to be presented in court Wednesday and Thursday and are subject to approval by a judge. Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan has announced plans to hold a news conference after the final hearing Thursday.

Dunphy said Renaud denies having sex with Prince. He said Renaud considered her a friend and tried to intervene when the bullying escalated.

In March, a judge denied a defense motion to dismiss the statutory rape charge against Renaud. Judge Mary-Lou Rup ruled that although there was "limited" evidence to suggest that Renaud had sex with Prince, it was enough to support an indictment.

If prosecutors were to offer Renaud a plea deal for the reduced charge of indecent assault and battery on a person over age 14, he still would face a daunting stigma: He would have to register as a sex offender.

Boston attorney John Swomley, who has represented many people accused of sex crimes, said the stigma that comes with the sex offender label can have a devastating impact on attempts to get admitted to college or find a job.

"Essentially, we call people sex offenders for life and that stigma doesn't wear off no matter how long ago your conviction was," said Swomley, who's not involved in Renaud's case. "You deal with that, essentially, forever."

Sullivan spokeswoman Mary Carey declined to comment on Renaud's case.

Dunphy said Renaud, like the other five teens charged, was suspended from South Hadley High School. Renaud has been working for the last year, but Dunphy declined to say what kind of work he has been doing.

"He's a lot more mature than he was about a year and a half ago," Dunphy said, "simply because he has had to become mature."