With only a few weeks to go until the “South Hadley 6” go on trial for various charges related to the bullying of Irish girl Phoebe Prince, lawyers are saying that the two statutory rape charges against two males are unusual.
Former South Hadley High students Austin Renaud, 19, and Sean Mulveyhill, 18, were both charged with having underage sex with Phoebe Prince before her suicide on January 14 this year.
Prince was 15 when she dated Renaud and Mulveyhill and according to the Northeasteren District Attorney’s office’s she had a sexual relationship with both.
According to both indictments, the sex took place between Sept. 1, 2009, and Jan. 14, 2010, while Prince was 15, a year younger than the legal age of consent in Massachusetts.
Mulveyhill was 17 during that period. Renaud turned 18 on Oct. 11, 2009.
Some laywers insist that the rape charges are unusual for teenagers so close in age to the alleged victim.
By definition, statutory rape is consensual sex involving a minor.
A former federal prosecutor, John Pucci, who now has a private practice in Northampton, called the statutory rape charges "highly unusual."
"You usually see this where there's a wide differential in age," he said.
"The idea of 15-to-17-year-olds being prosecuted is not routine."
“Where there is a greater age differential, Pucci said, prosecutors can argue that the defendant “had more power in the relationship or exploited the victim's naiveté.”
Any use of force normally results in a flat rape charge, he added.
Lawyer, David Angier, who served as first assistant district attorney under Scheibel and worked as a prosecutor for 24 years in that office, said he cannot remember a statutory rape prosecution involving teenagers so close in age.
"You look at the percentage of students who have sex in high school, and it happens all the time," Angier said.
In some states there must be a stated age difference between the victim and the accused. In Maine, the defendant on trial must be five years older than the victim. In New York the difference is four years. There is no age difference required in the Massachusetts laws.
In this case statutory rape falls to the discretion of the prosecutors involved.
Said Angier “the decision to proceed on a statutory rape charge is among the most difficult prosecutors face.
“Often, the victim is brought forth by irate parents who demand justice, he said.
"You have to take it on a case-by-case basis.”
Statutory rape is a felony that carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Upon conviction, the perpetrator must register as a sex offender, a designation he will carry for the rest of his life.
"That's an enormous burden to bear for some kid who had sex with his girlfriend," Pucci said.