In my previous post on this case, I discussed how five of the six defendants charged criminally in the death of Phoebe Prince, have received sentences far, far too lenient given the facts of this case.
For the death of an innocent 15 year-old who came to this country with hope and optimism, these five people were each sentenced to probation (and 100 hours of “community service.”) One year of probation, for deliberately terrorizing, assaulting, battering and driving another human being to the point of suicide. I find these sentences shocking in leniency, and unconscionable in the lighthearted judicial attitude toward what these students did. The judge who sentenced these defendants had the power to do more than this – much more. The charges that these five defendants pled guilty to – criminal harassment – is governed by M.G.L. Chapter 265, Sec. 43A. That statute provides for maximum penalties of 2 ½ years imprisonment in a House of Correction, a fine of $1,000.00, or both. Yet the judge hearing these cases sentenced these reprobates with essentially straight probation. As a Dedham Massachusetts criminal defense attorney, I find those sentences to be no more than a slap on the wrist, and unconscionable given the sickening facts of this case.
Prince’s mother, Anne O’Brien, broke her long silence to speak for the first time publicly, in court last week. In tears, she testified at the “sentencing” of Sean Mulveyhill, the football player who Prince had a brief relationship with and who later joined others in terrorizing her, saying that he went to great lengths to intentionally abuse, humiliate and betray Phoebe: “I can only imagine the pain (Phoebe) felt at his unrelenting desire to harass and humiliate her.” Mrs. O’Brien then read in court two of Phoebe’s last text messages in which she described her increasing desperation at the cruelty and brutality she was suffering at the hands of these students. One read, “I think Sean (Mulveryhill) condoning this is one of the final nails in my coffin,” she wrote. “I can’t take much more.” Her voice cracking, Mrs. O’Brien could barely read the second and final message: “It would be easier if he (Mulveyhill) handed me a noose.”
Throughout it all, Mulveyhill said nothing. According to courtroom observers present, his expression revealed not one iota of remorse, nor any emotion at all. For this and his other acts involved in assaulting and criminal stalking of Prince, he gets straight probation. This is justice? I think not. And as a Norfolk County Mssachusetts assault and battery lawyer for many years, I ought to know.
Only one other of these six defendants offered public remorse and contrition during last week’s proceedings: Kayla Narey, who offered apologies to Phoebe and her family. At the second of the two court appearances last week, where three others were “sentenced”, Flannery Mullins (reported to be the among the cruelest and most violent of these six defendants,) Sharon Velazquez, and Ashley Longe, Prince’s mother publicly expressed her disappointment for most of these sentences. Of Sharon Velazquez, Mrs. O’Brien told the judge that Velazquez was being let off too easy for the criminal actions she admitted to.”Her age (17) allows her to escape any reasonable sentence of community supervision. Hopefully, community service will allow her to reflect on the enormity of her actions, but I’m afraid I’m not sure anything would. She has throughout this case portrayed herself as the victim, not Phoebe.” Addressing the court, Mrs. O’Brien spoke of pain that will never cease: “It is impossible to measure the impact of Phoebe’s death upon our lives,” Phoebe’s mother told the judge. “There will be no more reading to Phoebe, no more hearing her lovely soprano voice. How do you measure a future that should have been rightfully hers? Phoebe was a beautiful, intelligent, gregarious daughter, with a kind heart, able to show compassion for others.”
I find these sentences shocking in their leniency. A few legal colleagues of mine cautioned me against saying this publicly in this blog. I disagree. As a criminal defense lawyer, I defend my clients 1,000 per cent, believing that every criminal defendant is entitled to the best defense available. Yet at the end of the case where a defendant has been competently and zealously represented by defense counsel, and where I have not acted as an attorney, I want to see justice done in that case. “Justice”, in this case, was not served with these non-sentences. And no, neither was an “effective” or clear message sent out, that future such bullying cases will be dealt with seriously; In fact, anything but.
We live in an increasingly uncivil, violent and crude world. The message that our courts should be sending is that this kind of violence will not be dealt with or responded to, with such a slap on the wrist. I’ll remind: Only one of these six arrogant reprobates freely cooperated with police investigators (Ashley Longe,) and only showed the slightest remorse in court: Kayla Narey. All the others, displayed a smug arrogance that insulted all involved in the legal process, and further injured Phoebe Prince’s family. In handing down these non-punishments, the court only magnified that insult, and the suffering of Phoebe Prince’s family even more.
And if anyone disagrees with that, I leave you with the following testimony last week from Phoebe Prince’s mother: “There is a dead weight that now sits in my chest”, she testified through tears. “It is an unbearable pain, and it will stay with me until my own death. I would not wish this kind of pain on any parent. It is torture.” Unable to refrain from touching her deceased daughter one last time, she even spoke of lifting Phoebe’s dead body out of her coffin to hold her one last time: “My little girl. Once so full of life, was now so cold. I wept and asked her: “What am I going to do?”
I don’t know what to tell Mrs. O’Brien she can possibly do in the wake of this. I won’t presuppose to have that wisdom. But I know what could have been done by the judge in that courtroom last week – and what he didn’t do. These non-sentences mock the principle, and the practice, of justice.
That comment isn’t is as unusual as it might seem, coming from a criminal defense attorney. These defendants had their day in court; they all had attorneys, and they were all afforded the opportunity of a jury trial. To no one’s surprise given the evidence against them, they chose not to mount such a defense. The time came for appropriate punishment – and it was squandered – as was the opportunity to send a message loud and clear on this subject across the country.
I became an attorney to do the right thing in often difficult situations. If one does not reach down to a moral core to do the right thing when needed, then of what use are moral precepts at all?