HADLEY, Mass. -- Two teenage girls admitted Thursday that they participated in the bullying of a 15-year-old Massachusetts girl who later committed suicide, with one of the girl's lawyers complaining that they had been unfairly demonized as "mean girls."
Sharon Chanon Velazquez, 17, and Flannery Mullins, 18, were sentenced to less than a year of probation after they admitted to sufficient facts to misdemeanor charges in the bullying of Phoebe Prince, a freshman at South Hadley High School who hanged herself in January 2010.
Prosecutors said Prince, who had recently emigrated from Ireland, was hounded by five teens after she briefly dated two boys. Her death drew international attention and was among several high-profile teen suicides that prompted new laws aimed at cracking down on bullying in schools.
The misdemeanor charges against Velazquez and Mullins will be dismissed if they successfully complete their probation. By admitting to sufficient facts, they acknowledged that prosecutors could win a conviction if the case went to trial.
Under a plea deal approved by Prince's family, prosecutors agreed to dismiss more serious charges against them.
Two other teens reached similar deals with prosecutors, and a fifth teen was expected to finalize a comparable agreement in court Thursday afternoon.
Attorneys for both girls, while offering condolences to Prince's family, said they believed the girls had been treated overly harshly by both prosecutors and the news media.
Alfred Chamberland, a lawyer for Mullins, said it was not a "relentless" three-month bullying campaign, as prosecutors alleged when the teens were charged last year. He said Mullins did not even know who Prince was until she returned to school after winter vacation in January 2010 and heard that Prince had been dating her boyfriend, Austin Renaud.
In a statement he read to reporters, Chamberland said prosecutors had "overcharged" the girls and the media had unfairly portrayed them as "mean girls and bullies."
"She never spoke directly with Miss Phoebe Prince," he said.
In court, Assistant District Attorney Steven Gagne said that after hearing rumors at school that Prince had had "some sort of romantic relationship" with her boyfriend, she told at least one classmate that "someone ought to kick her ass," referring to Prince.
Then, during gym class, several students heard her and others making "disparaging and vulgar" comments about Prince, Gagne said.
He said Velazquez, Mullins' friend, then approached Prince in a "loud and threatening manner" and called her disparaging names. Velazquez was also overheard telling Mullins that she was willing to hit Prince or get someone else to do it, Gagne said.
"Word quickly spread around the school that Mullins was angry at Prince and that Mullins planned on fighting her," Gagne said.
Gagne said Prince became fearful, skipped class and went to the school nurse several times.
"She was frightened to go to class and was unable to focus on her studies," Gagne said.
Mullins admitted to sufficient facts to a misdemeanor civil rights violation, which was continued without a finding until she turns 19 in January 2013, and to a charge of disturbing a school assembly, which was continued without a finding for three months.
Prince's mother, Anne O'Brien, delivered an emotional victim impact statement, recalling her daughter's "kind heart" and the compassion she showed to others.
"Phoebe had as much right as Flannery Mullins to be in school. She was an intelligent student with a promise of high achievement," she said.
Mullins showed no obvious emotion as Prince's mother spoke and did not speak in court except to answer questions from the judge.