April 13 (UPI) — Two girls charged in the death of a 16-year-old girl at a Delaware high school a year ago were convicted on Thursday, and one was acquitted in the case.
The three girls reached the end of their trial in juvenile court for the April 2016 death of Amy Joyner-Francis, who died after she was assaulted in a bathroom at the Howard High School of Technology in Wilmington.
Joyner-Francis, who had congenital heart and lung conditions that were aggravated by the fight, was confronted and assailed by one of the girls and flanked by two others. The fight was recorded on cellphone video, as a number of girls stood by but didn’t intervene.
The primary defendant, a 17-year-old girl, was found delinquent — the juvenile equivalent of a guilty finding in adult court — of negligent homicide in Joyner-Francis’ death.
Family Court Judge Robert Coonin also convicted one participant on a third-degree criminal conspiracy charge, and acquitted the other due to lack of evidence. All four girls were 16 at the time of the fight.
Prosecutors, who unsuccessfully attempted to try the main defendant as an adult, argued that the girls were complicit because they inflicted the physical trauma that resulted in Joyner-Francis’ death.
“The message that’s being sent is, ‘There are consequences for your actions,'” Sherry Dorsey Walker, a spokeswoman for the Joyner-Francis family, said. “At the end of the day, you cannot brutalize someone, pummel someone in the bathroom and [have it] lead to their death and there is no consequence for that action.”
“I hope the result today begins the healing for the community,” deputy attorney general Sean Lugg said after Thursday’s verdict.
“Consequences of ones actions must be something that’s considered, and kids as much as adults should be thinking about that.”
Defense lawyers argued that criminal charges were inappropriate because none of the three girls could possibly have believed that a simple bathroom fight would end in anyone’s death. John Deckers, an attorney who represented the girl charged with homicide, said the only reasonable expectation for a teen squabble is discipline, not death.
“The reaction is the same as it would be no matter what the verdict was,” Deckers said outside the courthouse. “We have deep sadness for everybody who’s been affected by this case.
“Anyone who knows children understands that sometimes teens are pressured into engaging in activity that is contrary to what mother and father teach every day in the home.”
An autopsy found that Joyner-Francis’ death was caused by distress from her rare coronary and respiratory ailments, which went undetected by her doctor. A medical examiner testified last week that the girl would definitely still be alive if she hadn’t been attacked.
“While it may be true that Amy Joyner-Francis, due to her condition, could have died from a multitude of stressors … she had a right to live one more day, one more week, one more month or year until her time, without a contributing cause by another,” the judge said Thursday.
The two girls convicted on juvenile charges will be sentenced May 23. It’s uncertain whether either will spend any time in jail, though, since there are no mandatory minimums for juvenile sentences. Whatever their punishment, under the law, they must be concluded before the girls reach the age of 21.