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Two of Phoebe Prince accused plead guilty to harassment

Two of the Massachusetts teenagers accused of bullying 15-year-old Irish transfer student Phoebe Prince, who took her own life last year, have pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal harassment.

Sean Mulveyhill, second from left, sits in court during his hearing where he pleaded guilty to criminal harassment in Franklin - Hampshire Juvenile Court in Northampton, Mass., Wednesday, May 4, 2011.
Sean Mulveyhill, second from left, sits in court during his hearing where he pleaded guilty to criminal harassment in Franklin - Hampshire Juvenile Court in Northampton, Mass., Wednesday, May 4, 2011.
Image: AP Photo/Gordon Daniels

TWO MASSACHUSETTS TEENAGERS accused of harassing a 15-year-old classmate who later hanged herself were sentenced Wednesday to a year of probation, the first of five anticipated plea deals in a case that drew worldwide attention to school bullying.

Phoebe Prince’s mother wept as she approved the deals finalised today in Hampshire Superior Court, where Sean Mulveyhill and Kayla Narey, both 18, were sentenced for their roles in the bullying that preceded Phoebe’s suicide in January 2010.

Three other former South Hadley High School students are expected to accept similar plea arrangements tomorrow in a nearby juvenile courthouse, a few miles from their small hometown about 100 miles west of Boston.

Prosecutors said Phoebe’s family agreed to the plea deals to end the stress of the drawn-out court proceedings and, more importantly, because they required the teens to admit that their threats, crude insults and slurs about Phoebe’s Irish ethnicity were criminal acts.

Prosecutors have said the bullying stemmed from four girls’ anger about Phoebe’s relationships with Mulveyhill, who was captain of the school’s football team, and another popular boy after she transferred to South Hadley from Ireland, and that Mulveyhill goaded some of the girls to harangue Phoebe after he dumped her.

“Today’s proceedings signify that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated in our schools and when it rises to the level of criminal conduct, as it did in these two cases, those responsible will be prosecuted,” Northwestern First Assistant District Attorney Steven Gagne said after Wednesday’s sentencings.

Mulveyhill, Narey and four other South Hadley teens originally were charged with violating Phoebe’s civil rights and other offenses, and Mulveyhill was charged with statutory rape for allegedly having sexual contact with the underage girl.

On Wednesday, Mulveyhill pleaded guilty under the plea arrangement to a single count of misdemeanor criminal harassment and the other charges were dropped, including the statutory rape charge.

Narey’s plea deal was slightly different: she acknowledged the state would likely win a conviction at trial on a criminal harassment charge, so prosecution was placed on hold without a formal guilty plea and the civil rights charge against her was dropped. That leaves her with a clean record if she successfully completes probation.

She apologised through tears to Phoebe’s family, her own and her hometown, saying she was so jealous about Prince’s brief relationship with Mulveyhill — her on and off boyfriend — that she temporarily put aside the values her family had instilled in her.

Her attorney said Narey had only a few interactions with the girl, and was not part of the more extensive and drawn-out bullying that others are accused of orchestrating. She also posted disparaging comments about Phoebe on her Facebook page.

“I was the weak one, and that failure will always be with me … I am sorry, Phoebe,” Narey said Wednesday, crying as Phoebe’s mother sat nearby clutching a tissue after shedding her own tears. “I am immensely ashamed of myself that I allowed my emotions to spiral into acts of unkindness.”

Mulveyhill did not address the court during his sentencing, but his attorney, Vincent Bongiorni, said he believes the plea arrangement is “a fair and equitable one, given the entirety of the circumstances.”

Prosecutors’ comments Wednesday painted Mulveyhill as someone who deceived both girls about his involvement with the other, then egged on a third girl to frighten Phoebe and threaten to beat her up.

Phoebe hanged herself that day after school, telling a friend in final text messages, “I think Sean condoning this is one of the final nails in my coffin. I can’t take much more — it would be easier if he or any one of them handed me a noose.”

Phoebe’s death became an often-cited case in national debates over preventing and prosecuting bullying in American schools and universities. Her mother, Anne O’Brien, said Mulveyhill and Narey had many opportunities to stop the other girls’ bullying but, instead, added fuel to the fire by participating or condoning it.

- AP

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