3 girls in Mass. bullying case plead not guilty
HADLEY, Mass.—Three teenage girls accused of participating in the bullying of a 15-year-old girl who committed suicide pleaded not guilty through their lawyers Thursday to charges including civil rights violations and criminal harassment.
Ashley Longe, Sharon Chanon Velazquez and Flannery Mullins, all 16, did not appear in Franklin-Hampshire Juvenile Court for their arraignments. Three other teens have already been charged in adult court.
A judge ordered them to have no contact with the family of Phoebe Prince, a South Hadley High School freshman who hanged herself in January after what prosecutors called an "unrelenting" three-month bullying campaign by six teenagers. Prosecutors say Prince was targeted after she briefly dated a popular boy.
A prosecutor has said school administrators and teachers knew about the harassment but did little to stop it.
"This is the first step in a long process," Alfred Chamberland, Mullins' lawyer, said Thursday. Lawyers for the other two defendants left the courthouse without commenting.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Cahillane declined to discuss specifics of the case after the hearing, saying further information would come out in court proceedings and records.
"We will respect the court process in order to protect the rights of the victim and the defendants in this case," he said.
Mullins, Velazquez and Longe are charged as youthful offenders with civil rights violations resulting in injury. Mullins and Velazquez are also charged with stalking.
Prosecutors said in court Thursday that all three also face separate deliquency cases listing the same alleged offenses, along with criminal harassment charges against each of them.
Longe also is charged under delinquency statutes with assault for allegedly throwing a beverage can at Prince shortly before she hanged herself, according to court records and prosecutors.
Prosecutors said they will argue the deliquency charges at the same time as the other charges. Had the teens been charged only under deliquency laws and not as youthful offenders, their identities would have been confidential.
The maximum punishment in a juvenile delinquency case is commitment to a state youth services facility until age 18. Juveniles ages 15 and 16 who are charged with a felony can be prosecuted as youthful offenders under certain circumstances, including when they are charged with a crime that involves the infliction or threat of serious bodily harm.
Juveniles convicted as youthful offenders can receive sentences in adult prisons or county jails, a commitment to youth services until age 21, or a combination of a commitment to age 21 and a suspended adult sentence.
The three other teens charged in connection with Prince's death are being tried in adult court and had not guilty pleas entered on their behalf at their arraignments Tuesday.
Sean Mulveyhill, 17, and Austin Renaud, 18, are charged with statutory rape. Kayla Narey, 17, is charged with civil rights violations and harassment. All three were released on personal recognizance and ordered to stay away from the Prince family.
Prince's family has not commented on the arrests and did not attend the arraignments Tuesday and Thursday.