The Phoebe Prince case: None of the six teens charged in connection with the suicide will go to jail.

The new world of online cruelty.
May 5 2011 6:54 PM

It's Over

None of the six teens charged in connection with the suicide of Phoebe Prince will go to jail.

Read the rest of Emily Bazelon's  series on cyberbullying

(Continued from Page 1)

Earlier, by contrast, O'Brien accused Velazquez of "terrifying" Phoebe. "Could she never have stopped, taken a breath, and realized that it's not right to cause another human being such a high level of distress and fear?" O'Brien asked. She also accused Velazquez of saying, after Price's suicide, that she did not care that Prince was dead. The statement left Velazquez sobbing. After the hearing, Velazquez's lawyer denied that Velazquez said anything like this. He had not seen O'Brien's statement before the hearing. The accusation also appears nowhere in the DA's account of Velazquez's misconduct. Her lawyer emphasized that she admitted only to the fact pattern laid out by Gagne at the hearing. "I said from Day One that the charges trying to hold her criminally accountable for the death of Phoebe Prince would be dismissed or that she would be acquitted," he said. "That's what happened today."

Mullins' lawyers issued a statement on behalf of her and her family expressing "their deepest sympathy" to the family of Prince, "whose death we all acknowledge was a tragedy on many different levels." The statement continues: "Today's plea is an acknowledgment that we need to act more civilly and more compassionately toward each other in our daily lives. … [It] is also an acknowledgement by the Northwestern District Attorney's Office that these matters were overcharged."

Elizabeth Scheibel, the district attorney who brought the original felony charges, and who has since left office, disagreed. In a statement, she called the charges "appropriate." The new DA, David Sullivan, also defended the charges at a press conference.

And yet the question remains: If prosecutors thought they could show that the five teens indicted on a felony civil rights charge caused Prince's suicide, why did they let the kids walk with probation, and in every case but one (Sean Mulveyhill's), with the promise of a future clean record? If they didn't think they could prove that, why did they make such a shattering, attention-getting accusation?

Advertisement

The American Bar Association says that prosecutors should only file charges when they know they have sufficient admissible evidence to support a conviction. * After more than a year of covering this case, it's hard for me to square that duty with the way these cases unfolded. "If you bully someone to death, that's murder," explained Joseph Kennedy, a criminal law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, when I called him earlier this week. "But if you bully someone, and then they kill themselves, and that's not something you anticipated, that's not a crime." Though the DA's office will not say so, perhaps this week's resolution means that prosecutors had to accept this assessment.

Correction, May 9, 2011: This sentence originally stated that "prosecutors are ethically bound to bring only charges they believe they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt." The Massachusetts ethical standards state that prosecutors may bring charges that are supported by probable cause. The American Bar Association has a higher bar. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Like  Slateand Bull-E on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Doublex

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

Politico Wonders Why Gabby Giffords Is So “Ruthless” on Gun Control

Behold
Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:38 PM “No One in This World” Is One of Kutiman’s Best, Most Impressive Songs
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?