Rebecca Sedwick of Lakeland, Florida, jumped to her death last month. Her mother says the 12-year-old had been bullied repeatedly on social media.
The two girls police say were her main tormentors now face felony stalking charges. Guadalupe Shaw, 14, filed a not guilty plea on Thursday. Katelyn Roman, 12, is slated to appear in court Tuesday.
Roman’s lawyer, Jose Baez, tells HLN she has also been suspended from school and is in home confinement. But he says the punishment is undeserved, and Sedwick’s death has nothing to do with his client.
“I’m not saying that Katelyn didn’t have disagreements with Rebecca, but to take it to another level and tell them they’re responsible for the death of a 12-year-old? I think that’s too far,” Baez said on HLN’s Raising America with Kyra Phillips.
The abusive behavior that authorities say prompted Rebecca’s suicide grew after Sedwick and one of the suspects both had feelings for the same boy, police said. When police searched Sedwick’s phone, they found messages like “you seriously deserve to die” and “nobody cares about u.”
Baez, who earned his reputation defending Casey Anthony, says Roman feels “absolutely horrible for what happened to Rebecca.” But he told Phillips that no direct evidence proves Roman sent hateful messages to Sedwick.
“There is zero — as it relates to statements in all of the reports — evidence so far that shows one specific instance from Katelyn,” he said. “Katelyn got into a schoolyard fight with Rebecca a year prior. And that is the extent to which the animosity that has been shown so far.”
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd sent the text from some of Roman’s Facebook chats to HLN’s Raising America. In them, Roman appears remorseful for her actions against Sedwick:
“Why does everything have to **** up. I feel like Rebecca’s dead ’cause of me. If only I could say sorry…”
“I just wish this never happened, like we never were friends or any of that.”
“I’m just so sad. I wish I could take it all back.”
“I feel so bad for beating her up.”
Judd also sent HLN messages from Katelyn acknowledging that she sent online messages to Rebecca as well.
When presented with the messages, Baez explained they simply showed a girl grieving over a former friend.
“She felt awfully guilty for the negative exchanges they had in the past. That doesn’t mean she was aggravated stalking, for which she’s charged,” Baez said. “You can say you feel guilty, but there’s going to come a point where they are going to have to prove it, and I don’t think they’ll be able to.”
At a press conference last week, Baez said he felt his client was being bullied and Sheriff Judd was going too far with the charges. But Judd says there are clear reasons why the girls are facing felony charges.
“This went further than bullying. This was stalking and it occurred over a ten month period. Interventions were tried by the school and by the victim’s mom to no avail,” Judd told CNN’s Piers Morgan on Oct. 18. “At that point law enforcement had to step in and that’s why we made felony criminal charges, because if this can’t be taken care of at home, certainly the system has an answer.”
HLN does not typically identify minors who are charged as juveniles, but the network is doing so in this case because their identities have been made public by law enforcement and have received extensive publicity in the local media. Sheriff Judd said he released the information because, “It is a crime for us not to release public records.”
And for more conversations like this, watch Raising America every week day at 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. ET on HLN. And be sure to tweet your thoughts to @KyraHLN with the #RaisingAmerica hashtag or join the conversation on Facebook.com.