Mass. prosecutors plan to call up to 50 witnesses against 3 teens in bullying-suicide case
HADLEY, Mass. – Prosecutors say they will call up to 50 witnesses in their case against three girls accused of bullying a classmate so relentlessly that she committed suicide.
Ashley Longe, Sharon Chanon Velazquez and Flannery Mullins, all from South Hadley, appeared with their attorneys Thursday in Franklin-Hampshire Juvenile Court. Their cases are expected to go to trial in early 2011.
The three are among a group of six teenagers charged earlier this year with bullying Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old South Hadley High School freshman who hanged herself in January.
Their attorneys said Thursday they will file motions by Nov. 1 asking a judge to toss out the grand jury's indictments based on insufficient evidence. The lawyers also opposed prosecutors' request to have the first of the trials in December, saying they had volumes of information to review as they prepared their defense.
Judge Daniel Swords rejected the idea of starting the trials in December, but encouraged the attorneys to submit their motions and other paperwork quickly.
"Let's get them filed. Let's get them heard. Let's move this case along," he said.
Longe, Velazquez and Mullins were each 16 when they were charged as youthful offenders with violation of civil rights resulting in bodily injury. Mullins and Velazquez also are charged with stalking. All three have pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors say some of their witnesses are now in college and will be called back to the area to testify.
The teens and their attorneys did not comment after Thursday's court hearing, other than a brief statement by attorney Colin Keefe to reaffirm Velazquez's innocence.
Prince's aunt also attended the proceedings, but declined to comment.
Prince, who had recently emigrated from Ireland, hanged herself in January after what prosecutors call a relentless campaign of bullying by the other students.
According to prosecutors, Mullins, Velazquez and Longe were angry over Prince's brief relationship with Austin Renaud, Mullins' on-and-off boyfriend.
Renaud and another teen, Sean Mulveyhill, face statutory rape charges for allegedly having sexual contact with Prince. They have pleaded not guilty.
Mulveyhill and his ex-girlfriend, Kayla Narey, also face the same civil rights charge levied against Longe, Velazquez and Mullins.
The cases against Narey, Mulveyhill and Renaud are being handled in Hampshire Superior Court, where all have pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors say they are expected to go to trial after the three younger teens.
Longe is charged with yelling crude comments, such as "Irish whore" and "stupid slut," at Prince in the school library a few hours before her suicide. Longe also threw an aluminum can at Prince and yelled insults again as the freshman walked home that afternoon, authorities said in court records.
The court records accuse Mullins of threatening to beat up Prince, cornering her in a school bathroom, repeatedly calling her an "Irish slut" and posting demeaning comments about her on Facebook.
Velazquez was described by prosecutors as showing "a pattern of assaultive conduct" that included crude insults and threats of violence, including one for which she served a one-day school suspension.
In addition to the charges they face in public juvenile court proceedings, prosecutors said Longe, Mullins and Velazquez also face separate delinquency cases that list the same alleged offenses plus criminal harassment charges. Longe also is charged under delinquency statutes with assault, according to court records and prosecutors.
Prosecutors plan to ask the judge in November to let them argue the delinquency charges at the same time as the other charges.
Had the teens been charged only under delinquency laws and not as youthful offenders, their identities would have been confidential.