From The Tampa Tribune
Prosecutors raised the stakes in the videotaped beating of a Lakeland girl with their decision Thursday to try eight teenage defendants as adults and with crimes that include kidnapping.
The defendants, one as young as 14, now face a penalty of up to life in prison.
The mother of one of the suspects said she can't understand the prosecutors' decision.
"Look at their ages, they're not adults," said Christina Garcia, the mother of Mercades Nichols. "They still have a teenage mentality."
All eight are scheduled for a first court appearance today in Bartow to face the kidnap charge and a charge of misdemeanor battery, said Chip Thullbery, spokesman for the state attorney's office in Polk County. Three of them also face felony charges of witness tampering.
Tom Scarritt, a Tampa defense lawyer who is not connected with the case, said he wasn't surprised the defendants are being charged as adults but did consider it unusual that all eight face a kidnapping charge.
"There's going to be some ringleaders and some followers," Scarritt said. "There will be different degrees of culpability."
John Trevena, a defense lawyer from Pinellas County, called the decision "extraordinarily harsh and unfair to the defendants."
"The reality is, despite how the video may sensationalize what happened, that girl was not seriously injured," Trevena said. "But because there is a video, there's political motivation to capitalize on that."
The father of one of the suspects agreed.
"Grady Judd is a big showboater," said Robert Schumaker, the father of Stephen Schumaker, speaking of the Polk County sheriff. "He's got this blown out of proportion and nobody's happy about it."
Attorneys and others involved in the case are prohibited from speaking publicly about it under a gag order issued Wednesday by Polk Circuit Judge J. Michael McCarthy.
McCarthy cited what he viewed as excessive publicity.
The beating on the night of March 30 was videotaped for posting on the MySpace and YouTube social-networking sites, Judd said Sunday. It was meant as retaliation for trash-talking online by the beating victim, 16-year-old Victoria Lindsay, Judd said.
The sheriff's office made the arrests Sunday and released a three-minute clip of the video Monday.
Six girls, all students at Mulberry High School, are accused of taking turns beating Lindsay. The three who also face charges of witness tampering are Brittni Hardcastle, Brittany Mayes and Nichols, all 17. They are accused of driving Lindsay around afterward and threatening to beat her again if she talked to law enforcement.
She was later dropped off at an intersection.
The other three girls are April Cooper, 14; Kayla Hassell, 15; and Cara Murphy, 16.
Stephen Schumaker, 18, and Zachary Ashley, 17, are accused of acting as lookouts.
Thursday, a spokesman for YouTube said the company is removing copies of the beating video from the Web site as well as any videos that provide personal information about anyone involved in the case.
Darlene Ashley, a Lakeland woman, said Wednesday that she received threatening phone calls from people who mistakenly thought she was the mother of Zachary Ashley. Darlene Ashley's phone number and address, along with those of the defendants, had been posted on YouTube.
Robert Schumaker and Garcia told News Channel 8 that their families have also received threatening calls.
"We've been getting death threats here, all kinds of phone calls all the time," Schumaker said. "Our nerves are just shot."
Garcia said, "Oh, we're getting death threats. I called the sheriff's department. When the deputy came out, he told me he wasn't going to do anything for me because my daughter is the suspect and not the victim."
Families Deny Involvement
Lindsay told investigators that Cooper slammed her head into a bedroom wall, knocking her unconscious. The blows resumed, primarily from Hardcastle, after Lindsay awoke in the living room, according to the sheriff's office.
"Ooh, yeah, baby. Ooh, yeah!" a girl says in the background on the tape. The sheriff's office said the voice was that of Murphy, who was holding the video camera.
The attack occurred at the home of Nichols' grandmother in Lakeland, Judd said. The grandmother had allowed Lindsay to stay with her and Nichols over spring break. She was at work during the beating.
Lindsay's family and Judd called for legislation against such "shock videos" or for social-networking sites to enact standards to prevent posting of this type of material.
"It's incumbent upon us as a society not to accept this," Judd said. "This pack mentality is just absolutely absurd. ... Regardless of what this victim may or may not have said, there's no justification for this."
These videos are "causing our children to take on a different culture and think this is fun, funny and OK," Lindsay's father, Patrick, said in a phone interview Sunday.
His daughter, who suffered a concussion, has permanent hearing loss in her left ear and blurred vision in her left eye, he said.
Now, those close to the case aren't saying anything because of the gag order.
Earlier, Robert Schumaker had denied his son's involvement, saying neighbors told the Schumakers that Stephen and Zachary Ashley were not at the house acting as lookouts.
Garcia has denied that her daughter beat Lindsay.
Lindsay "embarrassed these girls," Garcia told News Channel 8 on Sunday. "She said she was going to kick their you-know-what's," and called them "slutty."
Hardcastle's grandfather, Charles Platt, said his granddaughter gave a different version of events than Lindsay did.
Judd added that one of the boys stuck his head in from outside and told the girls to quiet down because neighbors could hear the fight.
Investigators reviewed the video and found no evidence Lindsay tried to fight back, Judd said.
On the video, Lindsay stands up once Hardcastle stops hitting her and says, "You want me to leave, I'll go home."
A girl in a red T-shirt steps forward and punches her.
"No, you're not leaving," Hardcastle says, shoving Lindsay against a corner by the front door.