Deal struck in deadly Massachusetts bullying case

Thu May 5, 2011 7:21pm EDT

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HADLEY, Mass., May 5 - Prosecutors and defense lawyers struck a deal on Thursday that resolves charges against all six Massachusetts teens accused in the case of Phoebe Prince, who hanged herself at age 15 after she was bullied relentlessly for months at her high school.

Five teens admitted to lesser criminal charges as part of a plea agreement, and Massachusetts Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan said he dismissed a statutory rape charge against the sixth defendant, Austin Renaud, 19, of Springfield.

The bullying case drew national attention because the teens preyed on Prince not only with physical threats and insults but also with technology tools, including Facebook and texting.

Prince, who had recently moved to Massachusetts from County Clare, Ireland, hanged herself in a stairwell at her home in January 2010 after she was subjected to extensive verbal assaults and threats of physical harm by the schoolmates. South Hadley is located about 100 miles west of Boston.

Reading a statement to the court on Thursday, Anne O'Brien called her daughter Phoebe a bright, sensitive, gentle girl who was terrified by the group's anger and aggression toward her.

She said Phoebe was so scared of the girls "that she walked between people in the halls of South Hadley High School, in case they jumped her."

In Franklin-Hampshire Juvenile Court, Sharon Velazquez, 17, and Ashley Longe, 18, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal harassment. Flannery Mullins, 18, admitted to a misdemeanor civil rights violation. Each was sentenced to one year of probation and up to 100 hours of community service.

In exchange, other charges including felony civil rights violations resulting in bodily harm and stalking were dropped.

In a similar settlement on Wednesday, Sean Mulveyhill and Kayla Narey, both 18, admitted to misdemeanor criminal harassment and received similar sentences.

Prosecutors said the teens intensified their bullying after Prince briefly dated Mulveyhill, a popular football player, who was in an off-and-on relationship with Narey, a former cheerleader. Prince also reportedly dated Renaud, who was the boyfriend of Mullins.

The charge against Renaud was dropped upon the request of the girl's family, Sullivan said in a statement.

"It is our sincere hope that the resolution of these criminal cases will bring some measure of closure for their family as they attempt to cope with the continuing pain of their loss," he said.

After Prince's death, Massachusetts outlawed bullying in school and online and mandated school-developed bullying prevention and intervention plans.

"While it is clear that we cannot legislate kindness or empathy, we can teach our young people that their words and acts have real consequences, both intended and unintended," Sullivan said.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune)

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