Antibullying activists and Boston parents have expressed outrage at the proposed downgrading of charges against five of the six defendants charged in connection with the Phoebe Prince case.
Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan issued a statement saying that "there may be significant developments in one or more of the cases" next week, when the five are due to appear in court.
The proposed settlement would allow the five teenagers to plead guilty to the lesser charge of criminal harassment, a misdemeanour. In return, prosecutors would drop the more serious charges levelled against them.
The settlement has yet to be given the stamp of approval by a judge. If convicted, the defendants could expect sentences ranging from probation to two and a half years in jail.
Kayla Narney, Sharon Chanon Velazquez, Ashley Longe, Sean Mulveyhill and Flannery Mullins, all of South Hadley, had faced a number of felony and misdemeanour charges. Mulveyhill was also charged with statutory rape, a charge that will likely be dropped now.
Dawn Bradley, mother of a student at South Hadley High School where Phoebe was a student told the Boston Herald: “I think it's horrible...the authorities need to send the message that if you bully someone to death, you will face the consequences.”
Speaking to the Boston Globe today, antibullying expert and author Barbara Coloroso said: “You don’t want a fist of vengeance that so many people were calling for; but you don’t want just to dismiss their actions. The Prince family should have some sense of justice.”
Coloroso also said she would like to see the alleged perpetrators required to publicly acknowledge their actions and to make private amends to Phoebe Prince’s family.
“Community service and a fine are not enough,’’ she said. “They don’t give justice to the family of the target of the bullying, and they don’t give those who were charged the opportunity to heal from this by being held accountable.”
Phoebe Prince from Fanore in County Clare, emigrated to the United States in 2009 with her family. She committed suicide on January 14 2010 following a sustained campaign of bullying by some of her fellow students at South Hadley High School in Boston.
Her death led to the criminal prosecution of six South Hadley teenagers on charges which included violation of civil rights and statutory rape.