MANASQUAN, N.J. (AP) — Two men have been convicted of endangering the welfare of an incompetent person by coaxing a man with autism to jump into a freezing ocean for $20 and cigarettes in a prank that was filmed and posted online.
Judge Paul Capotorto found Nicholas Formica, 22, and Christopher Tilton, 21, guilty on Tuesday and sentenced them to probation and community service.
The pair in February 2015 dared Parker Drake, 20, to eat a hamster for money, walk into the ocean for two packs of cigarettes or jump from the jetty for the cigarettes and $20, authorities said. Drake declined the first two options but agreed to jump into the jetty.
Drake testified last month that the water was so cold and his body became so numb that he thought he was going to die.
Defense attorneys argued that Drake made a choice that could have been avoided.
"A series of choices were presented ... and there was a fourth choice: Just don't do it," Formica's attorney, Alton Kenney, said. "Nobody compelled, nobody forced and nobody threatened Mr. Drake. He was given a series of choices."
But the judge said there was a possibility that Drake didn't know he could have refused the options.
"It turned out that this prank was well more than that," he said. "Fortunately for them, this prank didn't turn out to be something deadly."
Before sentencing, Drake urged the judge to keep Formica out of prison. Capotorto said he had planned to send Formica to prison until Drake's request.