Charges dropped in Florida bullying case, but controversy isn’t over
Charges have been dropped against two teenage girls accused of bullying a 12-year-old Florida student into killing herself in September, but the controversy isn’t over.
The suicide of Rebecca Ann Sedwick became one of the nation’s most prominent bullying cases after a local sheriff aggressively publicized the behavior of the two girles accused of tormenting her, and they were charged with felony stalking. This week, an attorney for one of the suspects said the sheriff went too far.
“He should get a lawyer, and a darn good one, because he’s going to need it,” said Jose Baez, who represented Casey Anthony in her Florida murder trial and now represents a 13-year-old girl in the bullying case.
“I think it’s ridiculous, outrageous, and if you want to be a TV star, go out and do that,” Baez said. “Don’t go out and decide to use the shield of the public trust as your pulpit.”
Although Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd had released the girls’ names, citing Florida transparency laws, state attorneys told reporters they were barred from commenting on why charges were dropped against the girls because they are juveniles. The Times is not publishing their names because they were charged as minors.
In previously describing the case, Judd quoted at length from the social media postings of the girls accused of bullying Sedwick, and he said the they had told Sedwick to kill herself.
A 14-year-old and 13-year-old were arrested and charged with felony stalking in October after investigators found a new posting from the 14-year-old girl’s account that said, “Yes ik [I know] I bullied REBECCA nd she killed her self but [I don’t care].” The girl claimed the account was hacked.
Attorneys for the 14-year-old released statement offering condolences to the dead girl’s family and said the episode has been a learning experience for the girl.
“My client and her family are relieved by the state attorney’s decision today,” the statement from Andrea DeMichael of Lakeland and Ronald Toward of Bartow said. “She is hopeful about her future and is attempting to turn this tragic event into something positive.”
In an interview with the “Today” show Thursday, after the charges were dropped, the 13-year-old said, “I do not feel I did anything wrong.”
Judd maintained a different stance in a news conference after the charges were dropped.
“What’s important here is not that we get a flashy defense attorney to drive across the state to try to say [the 13-year-old] didn’t do something that she obviously did,” Judd said Wednesday. “[The girl] just turned 13. She needs to recognize, accept responsibility for her actions.”
Judd, who has characterized his public handling of the case as an “intervention,” again read from one of the girls’ social media postings – this time, from a Facebook chat in which he said the 13-year-old told a friend that she bullied Sedwick.
“It’s true, I’m a bad person,” the 13-year-old wrote, the sheriff said. “She’s the only one I bullied, and now I can’t say I’m sorry.”
“Think of it this way,” a friend replied, according to the sheriff. “You did the right thing going to [Rebecca’s house to apologize to her mom]. That’s what Becca would have wanted us to do, and you did, and she is in a better place.”
“Because of me,” the 13-year-old replied, according to Judd’s account. He then looked up from a screen shot of the chats and asked reporters, “What do you think?”
“We have a confession from [the 13-year-old], we have a confession from [the 14-year-old], we have independent witnesses, we have their own Facebook chat,” Judd said.
When asked in the “Today” interview what she learned from the case, the 13-year-old replied, “I learned that it’s not OK to bully, and when you have a chance, stand up to bullies.”
Her parents, who also appeared in the interview, said they’d been tormented and threatened since their daughter’s name was released. The girl’s father, who expressed condolences for Rebecca’s death, denied Judd’s accusations.
Must-read stories from the L.A. Times
Get all the day's most vital news with our Today's Headlines newsletter, sent every weekday morning.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.