The trials in the controversial Phoebe Prince "bullycide" case began Wednesday in western Massachusetts — with two of the five teenagers charged with driving the Irish-born Prince to kill herself last January in court for preliminary hearings. The proceedings offered the first indications of how the prosecution and defense will handle the emotionally charged bullying case. (Read The Week's rundown of the Prince case.) Here's a concise guide:
What are the teenagers charged with?
The most serious bullying charge is "violation of civil rights, with bodily injury resulting," a felony that carries up to 10 years in jail. The two defendants in court Wednesday — Kayla Narey, 17, and Sean Mulveyhill, 18 — are being charged as adults. Mulveyhill and a sixth defendant, Austin Renaud — both of whom allegedly had sex with Prince — are also being charged with statutory rape.
What happened Wednesday?
The hearing only lasted a few minutes, and focused on scheduling the jury trials. Mulveyhill's trial was set for sometime in March; Narey's lawyer and the district attorney will meet in court again in November or January to set a date for her trial. Narey's lawyer also indicated he will try to get the case dismissed outright, on the grounds that the grand jury didn't have enough evidence to indict his client. (Watch a Fox News report about the trial)
What happens next?
The three 16-year-old girls being charged in Juvenile Court (on adult felony charges) have their pre-trial hearings Sept. 23. Prosecutors have suggested that they might move to try two of the girls together, as "joint venturers." This would be "a bad deal for the kids," says Slate's Emily Bazelon, "because of its implication that they teamed up — a stock bullying image."
What's the defense strategy?
Defense lawyers will try to show that Prince had a troubled history predating the alleged bullying, including periods of self-mutilation and two previous suicide attempts — including one when Mulveyhill broke off their relationship. They're now trying to gain access to Prince's confidential medical and counseling records. "If I were defense attorney for the kids, I'd be fighting tooth and nail for those records," says Boston defense lawyer Daniel K. Gelb, who's not involved in the case.
What's the prosecution's plan?
Prosecutors are expected to argue that, given Prince's emotional problems, the alleged bullying is indeed a serious crime. If the D.A.'s office can show that the bullying provoked Prince's suicide, the law is on their side, says Andrew Goode, another Boston defense attorney not involved in the case. But such predictions don't count for much because the current district attorney, Elizabeth Scheibel, is stepping down in January, and her presumptive replacement has not said how — or if — he'll pursue the case.
Any guesses on the outcome?
Slate's Bazelon, who argued in July that the D.A. is overreaching, suggests that new evidence has weakened the prosecution's case, which might shed light on why Scheibel is "willing to walk away from it" instead of insisting on a trial while she's still in office. Other legal experts predict that Scheibel or her successor might "allow the teenagers to plea to lesser, misdemeanor harassment charges," reports The New York Times, "which would not carry the lifelong stigma of a felony conviction." (Read The Week's list of other prominent bullycide cases)