Charges dropped against girls in Florida cyberbullying case

Reuters
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd talks about the events leading up to the arrest over the weekend of two juvenile girls in a Florida bullying case at a press conference in Winter Haven, Fla., Monday, Oct. 15, 2013. Two middle school girls ages 14 and 12 have been arrested and charged with felony aggravated stalking in connection with the suicide earlier this year of 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick in Lakeland. Judd said police arrested the 14-year-old girl after she posted online Saturday that she bullied Rebecca and she didn't care. The 12-year-old girl was Rebecca's former best friend, but Judd said the 14-year-old girl turned her against Rebecca. (AP Photo/The Ledger, Calvin Knight) TAMPA TRIBUNE OUT
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By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Florida prosecutors dropped charges on Wednesday against two girls accused of stalking a 12-year-old classmate who killed herself after complaining she was bullied online for months, a police official said.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told reporters the two girls, aged 12 and 14, would no longer face charges of aggravated stalking and are undergoing counseling.

The two were arrested last month. Police said the girls repeatedly cyberbullied Rebecca Ann Sedwick, who became so despondent she climbed a tower at an abandoned cement plant and jumped to her death in September.

Sedwick was targeted because she had dated the 14-year-old girl's boyfriend, police said.

When the girls were charged, Judd publicly identified them and showed their mugshots.

On Wednesday, he told reporters the cases against both girls were resolved in juvenile court by placing them in diversion programs, and that both girls are receiving counseling.

Judd said the resolution of the cases was confirmed through the girls' lawyers. He said prosecutors cannot comment because the girls are juveniles.

"Arguably we could have gone to court with it but would that have been in the best interests of the children? I don't think so," Judd said. "I think the right outcome occurred."

"The 14-year-old who was the primary bullier, the one who was more aggressive, she is going to receive the services she needs hopefully to make her a productive citizen in our community in future years," he said.

The girls sent online messages via Facebook and other sites calling Sedwick "ugly" and telling her: "You should drink bleach and die," "Nobody likes you," and "You should go kill yourself," police said.

The 12-year-old girl's lawyer, Jose Baez, demanded an apology from Judd, whose handling of the case he said was "reckless." Baez has said his client was also a victim after her picture was shown to the media.

"They dropped these charges because they simply didn't have the evidence, and they felt it was the right thing to do," Baez said on Orlando's WESH television's website.

A spokesman for the State Attorney's Office in Polk County could not be immediately reached for comment.

(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson; Writing by Kevin Gray; Editing by Ken Wills)

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