Just a few months ago, two middle school boys faced possible prison time and the prospect of being placed on a sex offender registry for life for slapping girls on their bottoms and touching their breasts in the school hallway.
Following a public outcry, and at the request of the girls, the case against the two 13-year-old boys was dismissed on Monday after drawing national attention.
Everybody involved, including the judge, appeared relieved when the decision was announced in court.
"I believe this is a just outcome," Yamhill County Circuit Judge John Collins said before dismissing the case, adding, "I hope lessons are learned here."
The case against Cory Mashburn and Ryan Cornelison had triggered a debate over whether such behavior should have been handled by school administrators &
or by police and prosecutors.
Last February, an aide at Patton Middle School reported the boys to the principal after they were seen swatting girls on the bottom. A McMinnville police officer assigned to patrol schools decided to arrest the boys after questioning some of the girls, and the Yamhill County district attorney's office filed felony sex abuse charges.
Those same girls later pleaded with prosecutors to drop all the charges.
"The way it was handled was not right," one of the girls said in a statement read in court by Debra Markham, the deputy district attorney who handled the case.
"I just want to say to both Cory and Ryan that I forgive you both 100 percent!" another girl said in a statement read by Markham. "I don't think that you should have been punished this harshly and I still want to be both of your friends."
She added: "I would like to say to the court and to the adult males at my school that I don't believe this situation was handled correctly. I don't consider myself to be the victim of a crime."
Nevertheless, Collins &
a former district attorney and now the presiding judge for the county &
reprimanded the boys.
"Make no mistake, the behavior here was not OK," Collins told them.
But the judge pointed out that both boys "have wanted to apologize" and that he believed they both have "good parents" who want them to be role models for good behavior in the future.
"Sincere remorse can be a powerful teacher," Collins said.
Markham defended the way the district attorney's office handled the case, but said she also was satisfied with the outcome.
"I think it's important that children feel that they can be safe within their schools," Markham said.
She noted that one of the girls said in her statement to the court that the behavior was becoming a problem because girls were warned by boys that Fridays were "slap ass day."
"They have the right to go to school and not feel that today is 'slap ass day' or anything else," Markham said of the victims.
McMinnville School Superintendent Maryalice Russell said she could not comment on the case, other than to say that when law enforcement took over, it was out of the school district's hands.
But Russell said she did look forward to having the boys return to school and getting things back to normal this fall. The boys spent five days in juvenile detention at the end of February and had been suspended from class pending the outcome of the case.
The boys, apparently inspired by the movie "Jackass," were accused in police reports of swatting girls on the bottom, grabbing breasts, teaming up to "dry hump" girls, and engaging in what's known as "party boy" dancing mimicking sexual intercourse.
They were originally charged with felony sex abuse in February. Amid growing public opposition to the possibility of sending the boys to prison and putting them on a sex offender registry, prosecutors eventually dropped the sex abuse charges but added harassment charges. Those charges were dismissed with the entire case on Monday.
Attorneys for the girls and the boys agreed to a civil compromise &
an out-of-court settlement for misdemeanor charges. No details were released, but The News-Register newspaper in McMinnville reported it called for both boys to apologize, to pay each of the four girls $250 and to complete a "boundaries education" program.
Both of the boys repeatedly said they were sorry, first in court when they apologized to the girls who attended the hearing, and in the judge's chambers &
according to their attorneys &
and finally to the reporters gathered at the courthouse.
"We were just messing around," Cory said. "We were just trying to be funny. But we didn't think."
Charges dropped against McMinnville middle school boys