HADLEY, Mass. — The criminal prosecution that prompted a national debate about how the law should deal with bullying is now over.
In Hadley Thursday, three schoolmates of Phoebe Prince were sentenced to probation and community service after they admitted to taunting and harassing her. Two other teens had agreed to similar settlements on Wednesday. Phoebe Prince committed suicide last year, at the age of 15.
Sharon Velazquez wept while Prince’s mother, Anne O’Brien, told the judge the 17-year-old was getting off easy for the criminal harassment she admitted to.
“Her age allows her to escape any reasonable sentence of community supervision. Hopefully, community service will allow her to reflect on the enormity of her actions, but I’m afraid I’m not sure anything would. She has throughout this case portrayed herself as the victim, not Phoebe,” O’Brien said.
But Velazquez’s lawyer, Colin Keefe, said his client has suffered since the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office decided to prosecute her and the other teenagers for bullying Prince.
“From day one, when these charges came out, she has been ridiculed. Her life has been completely changed,” Keefe said. “She has been stalked. She has been harassed. She has gone through endless, endless…I’m trying to think of the proper word, but public reprimand.”
Prince emigrated to South Hadley from Ireland with her parents. She dated two popular boys at the high school and endured the taunts of girls who resented the bright newcomer. One of the boys she dated joined in humiliating her.
A teen who had dated that boy — Flannery Mullins — admitted violating Prince’s civil rights. In gym class she said, “Someone ought to kick her ass.” Several students heard her making vulgar comments about Prince.
Word spread around South Hadley High School that Mullins planned to fight Prince. As a result, Prince stayed away from school out of fear. She committed suicide in January last year.
“It is impossible to measure the impact of Phoebe’s death upon our lives,” Phoebe’s mother told the judge. “There will be no more reading to Phoebe, no more hearing her lovely soprano voice.
“How do you measure a future that should have been rightfully hers? Phoebe was a beautiful, intelligent, gregarious daughter, with a kind heart, able to show compassion for others.”
O’Brien had more conciliatory words for another of Phoebe’s tormentors, Ashley Longe, who admitted taunting Phoebe the day she died. But O’Brien said Longe was the only teenager who had bullied Phoebe to ask for a meeting.
“Although I’m not dismissing how she treated Phoebe, she, from the outset, has been the only one to acknowledge her actions, and I would like the court to know that she is the only one of the charged students that agreed to speak to the police on multiple occasions, truthfully addressing her own actions and those of others,” O’Brien said.
Ever since Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel decided to prosecute the bullies, the office has been criticized for criminalizing what some saw as normal teenage behavior. Thursday, Scheibel’s successor, David Sullivan, stood by the decision to prosecute.
“These cases were not overcharged. These cases were brought because of the evidence that was available at that point in time to the Scheibel administration. That administration looked at the facts and evidence,” Sullivan said. “We did the same, and we brought these charges in accordance with what the facts and evidence were, and also the wishes of the family.”
Sullivan announced Thursday that — at the request of Phoebe’s parents — his office is dropping charges of statutory rape against one of the teenagers, Austin Renaud, who dated Phoebe Prince.