“I Haven’t Seen Anything Like It”

A dispatch from the arraignment of three teens charged with bullying Phoebe Prince.

Read the rest of Emily Bazelon’s  series on cyberbullying. See Emily Bazelon’s special report on the untold story of Phoebe Prince and her suicide.

District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel

Northampton, Mass.—Three of the teenagers who have been criminally charged with bullying Phoebe Prince, the 15-year-old South Hadley High student who killed herself in January, were arraigned today. All three agreed, through their lawyers, to stay away from the Prince family. They also pleaded not guilty. That’s the news from the arraignment—not much, which is the way arraignments often go. This one was especially low on drama because the three teens—Sean Mulveyhill, Austin Renaud, and Kayla Narey—didn’t come to court. Their lawyers had arranged for them to waive their appearances.

The arraignment briefly woke up Northampton, a low-key area of Massachusetts that people from Boston love to imagine moving to. The setting for the proceedings, which lasted about three minutes, was lovely: an old-fashioned, high-ceilinged courtroom with wood benches for the spectators, a mural on the concave center of the ceiling, and a large chandelier. A phalanx of TV reporters had to crowd in the hallway. The benches inside were mostly full of print reporters and South Hadley residents—the ones behind me were chatting about next year’s high-school football season.

Judge Judd Carhart, who looked a little like the Yankee in the portrait hanging behind him, with receding gray hair and glasses, let the three defense lawyers, one per teen, enter their appearances on behalf of their clients, and their clients’ not-guilty pleas. Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Dunphy Farris said that as a condition of bail the commonwealth wanted the defendants to stay away from the Prince family and that the defendants had agreed. (The teens will be quietly booked at a local police station in the coming days.) She promised to turn over the evidence produced by the DA’s investigation to the defense lawyers by April 20. Farris asked to schedule a pretrial conference on June 29 and a pretrial hearing on Sept. 15. By then, of course, it’s possible that the defendants will plea bargain, and the charges will be history. In the meantime, the high school’s critics went back on TV today to call for the resignation of the principal and the superintendent.

Surrounded by TV reporters outside the courthouse, two of the defense lawyers, Michael Jennings for Kayla Narey and Terrence Dunphy for Austin Renaud, took turns saying not much. They haven’t seen the DA’s evidence against their clients. They didn’t want to comment about how their clients were feeling about their strange new notoriety. Jennings did concede that criminal charges for bullying were “unusual,” adding, after prodding, “No, I haven’t seen anything like it.”

My big contribution was to ask Terrence Dunphy, Renaud’s lawyer, whether he’s related to assistant DA Elizabeth Dunphy Farris. Nope. He’s from the New York branch of the family, he said, and she must be from the Massachusetts branch. No all-in-the-lawyer-family drama. Just a bunch of miserable teenagers, looking at consequences they surely never predicted, and the grieving family of a 15-year-old who is gone.

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