Three New Jersey teenagers have been charged in connection with the bullying of a 15-year-old who eventually committed suicide, a case that comes on the heels of the harassment conviction of former Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi.
Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi announced the criminal charges against the three on Wednesday, a day before Ravi was to begin serving a 30-day jail sentence for his crimes. The heightened anti-bullying legislation used to charge the three teens evolved from Ravi’s case, which made headlines in September 2010 when Ravi’s 18-year-old gay roommate, Tyler Clementi, threw himself from the George Washington Bridge after learning that Ravi had spied on him during an intimate encounter with a man.
At a news conference, Bianchi said a 19-year-old and two juveniles were facing charges resulting from the alleged robbery, assault and verbal abuse of Lennon Baldwin, a Morristown High School freshman, in the weeks leading up to Baldwin’s March 28 suicide. “Nothing we do will ease the pain for the tremendous loss to the family,” Bianchi said of the Baldwins, the Star-Ledger reported. “When these bullying incidents surround acts that constitute assault, harassment, threats, robbery ... we will criminally prosecute.”
Bianchi identified the 19-year-old as a senior at Morristown High School named Michael Conway. The juveniles’ names were not released. The two younger suspects, who have been under house arrest, face charges that include robbery, theft, assault, making terroristic threats and conspiracy. Conway is charged only with making false statements to police and was expected to be released on $1,500 bail Thursday.
The Star-Ledger quoted Conway’s stepfather, Michael Kelsey, defending his son. “He is an excellent kid,” Kelsey said.
While none of the youths is charged in connection with Lennon Baldwin’s death, Bianchi said, the harassment the freshman suffered could have exacerbated whatever psychological, emotional and mental pressures he already was facing.
Neither Bianchi, nor Lennon’s family, has said why the teen might have been a target of bullies. “What Lennon really wanted was to be loved, respected, and accepted by his peers,” the family said in an obituary. “Now Lennon is finally at peace.” Those who knew him described Lennon as a champion bowler, drummer and guitarist.
“He was always smiling and laughing. He was funny,” a Morristown High School junior, 16-year-old Danny Perez, said in March, after classmates learned of Lennon’s death. “Everyone’s been telling me about how he always made everyone’s day.”
Although the three are not charged in connection with Lennon’s death, the case is sure to draw comparison’s to Ravi’s trial. He also was not charged in connection with Clementi’s suicide, but many of his supporters say Clementi’s death shadowed the entire case and led to unusually harsh charges being filed against Ravi. Those charges included two counts of bias intimidation, a hate crime, which alleged that Ravi had targeted Clementi because he was gay.
A jury convicted Ravi on all counts, and he could have faced 10 years in prison. Instead, a judge gave him 30 days in jail, due to begin Thursday.