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Agreement for five in bullying case

South Hadley teens would admit to lesser charges, have graver ones dropped

By John M. Guilfoil
Globe Staff / April 27, 2011

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Five of the six defendants charged in connection with the bullying last year of a teenage South Hadley girl who later committed suicide have agreed to admit to a misdemeanor, and in exchange prosecutors will drop more serious charges against them, a person familiar with the charges said yesterday.

In a case that made international headlines, the teenagers accused of bullying 15-year-old Phoebe Prince will be allowed to admit to the lesser crime of harassment, according to a source with direct knowledge of the case.

The person, who was not authorized to comment publicly about the case, spoke on condition of anonymity.

Kayla Narey, Sharon Chanon Velázquez, Ashley Longe, Sean Mulveyhill, and Flannery Mullins, all of South Hadley, faced felony and misdemeanor charges, including civil rights violations causing bodily injury, criminal harassment, and disruption of a school assembly.

Flannery and Velázquez also faced charges of stalking Prince.

Mulveyhill was charged with statutory rape, a charge that will also be dropped under the agreement, the source said.

The teenagers will probably receive probation, the source said, and the deals are subject to the approval of a judge.

Prince’s family could not be reached for comment yesterday. Prince, a freshman and an immigrant from Ireland, hanged herself in January 2010 in her family’s home after what Elizabeth Scheibel, then the Northwestern district attorney, called the ’’culmination of a nearly three-month campaign of verbally assaultive behavior and threats of physical harm.’’

Colin Keefe, a lawyer representing Velázquez, declined last night to discuss any possible disposition to the case.

“I am confident that the public opinion about my client will drastically change at the appropriate time when the true facts are revealed,’’ he said.

Prosecutors say Velázquez, Mullins, and Longe were angry with Prince because of her relationship with Springfield teenager Austin Renaud and said they relentlessly taunted her in person and on Facebook.

The legal agreements relate to the bullying charges that prosecutors say resulted in Prince’s death, but other charges may remain.

Longe is also charged with assaulting Prince by throwing an aluminum can at her.

Renaud still faces statutory rape charges in allegedly having sexual contact with the underage Prince.

Unforced sexual contact between two teenagers is considered statutory rape if one of them is under 16.

Renaud’s lawyer, Terrence Dunphy, told the Associated Press yesterday that he has not been discussing a possible deal with prosecutors.

Prosecutors confirmed yesterday that the teenagers have court dates.

Narey will be in Hampshire Superior Court next Wednesday. Velázquez, Longe, and Mullins will appear May 5 in Franklin-Hampshire Juvenile Court. Mulveyhill will be in Hampshire Superior Court May 6. Renaud’s next court date is a pretrial conference scheduled for July 6 in Hampshire Superior Court.

“Next week there may be significant developments in one or more of the cases against the defendants charged with the alleged bullying of Phoebe Prince,’’ the office of Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan said in a statement yesterday.

“Due to the pending nature of the charges, however, the office cannot comment further at this time.’’

In an aggressive prosecutorial move and facing a mountain of antibullying fervor, Scheibel pressed criminal charges against the six students in spring 2010.

She retired as district attorney last year and was replaced by Sullivan, who decisively defeated Scheibel assistant Michael Cahillane in a Democratic primary before cruising to the post in November’s general election.

With no catch-all crime of bullying, prosecutors levied a variety of charges against the teenagers, taking multiple legal avenues in an attempt to punish them.

Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox said last night that the resolution is for the best.

“The district attorney wanted to make a strong statement and draw a line in the sand, which she did,’’ Fox said of Scheibel.

“But for so long, we ignored and tolerated bullying,’’ he said. “And to say at this point, ‘OK, we’re going to throw the book at you’ is the wrong approach. This is the better outcome.’’

Globe correspondent Neal J. Riley contributed to this report. John M. Guilfoil can be reached at jguilfoil@globe.com.