Teen suspects in suicide bullying case for trial

Wed, Sep 15, 2010, 01:00

THE ALLEGED chief tormentors of Phoebe Prince, the 15-year-old Irish-American girl who hanged herself in this small New England town last January, appeared in court for the first time yesterday.

Sean Mulveyhill (18), former captain of the South Hadley High School football team, had a sexual relationship with Ms Prince last year.

When Mr Mulveyhill ended the relationship during the Thanksgiving holiday, Ms Prince took an overdose of the antipsychotic medication Seroquel and was hospitalised for a week. Mr Mulveyhill was then reunited with a girlfriend, Kayla Nary, a hockey champion who will turn 18 next month.

After Ms Prince told Ms Nary of her affair with Mr Mulveyhill, both of the other students turned on her, and drew their friends into bullying Ms Prince.

Five teenagers were arraigned last April on charges of violating Ms Prince’s civil rights with bodily injury. In the reasoning of district attorney Elizabeth Scheibel, they violated her right to an education and were responsible for the bodily injury of her suicide. If convicted, they face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Mr Mulveyhill and a sixth student, Austin Renaud, have also been charged with statutory rape. All plead not guilty.

The case has raised awareness of school bullying in the US and around the world. In May, Massachusetts passed a law holding school bullies accountable. The state of New York and the federal government are considering similar legislation.

Today’s pre-trial hearing will last only minutes, but the superior court in nearby Northampton is likely to be packed with media and local citizens eager to see the ring-leaders of the bullying that preceded Ms Prince’s death.

The hearing will set the month, but not the day, of the trial or trials. A court official said the trial usually takes place within two to three months of the hearing, but because the charges faced by Mr Mulveyhill are more serious, the delay could be longer. The defendants can waive their right to a trial by jury.

Mr Renaud, like Mr Mulveyhill and Ms Nary, will be tried in an adult court. He denies having had sex with Ms Prince. His pre-trial hearing was postponed until October 4th at his lawyer’s request. Three female defendants, Flannery Mullins, who was Mr Renaud’s girlfriend, her friend Sharon Chanon Velazquez, and Ashley Longe, who is close to Mr Mulveyhill and Ms Nary, are due in juvenile court for their pre-trial hearing on September 23rd.

Darby O’Brien, an advertising executive and friend of the Prince family, has campaigned unsuccessfully for school officials to step down over their failure to stop the bullying. “All had to do was stop it once – bring in the parents of the good athletes who were up for scholarships,” Mr O’Brien says, quoting one of Ms Prince’s friends.

“The other four followed Sean and Kayla. If you took the leaders out, you solved the problem.”

Last January 14th, the day of Ms Prince’s suicide, Mr Mulveyhill, Ms Nary and Ms Longe called Ms Prince obscene names in the library and as she left the school. Ms Longe drove past Ms Prince, who was crying as she walked home, shouted “whore” and threw an empty drink can at her.

Two of the defendants, Mr Renaud and Ms Longe, were charged with drink-driving in April and August respectively.