Wednesday, April 9, 2008

16 Year-old Florida Girl Beaten by Six Teen Girls

Polk County Florida Sheriff discusses the beating. He tells of how depraved these young people are regarding their lack of compassion and lack of respect for civil life.
Audio from a 911 call made on March 30, 2008 in which the battery victim along with the voice of an adult female assisting the victim with the call can be heard. Published: Wednesday, April 16, 2008
911 recording
Beating Victim: 'I Just Got Jumped'
Victoria Lindsay tells of knowing her assailants in March 30 attack.
By Jeremy Maready
The Ledger

LAKELAND | An audibly shaken Victoria Lindsay can be heard reporting her videotaped beating by six teen girls on a 911 recording released by the Polk County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday.
Audio from a 911 call made on March 30, 2008, in which the battery victim, along with the voice of an adult female assisting the victim with the call, can be heard.

On the six-minute, 22-second recording, Lindsay, a 16-year-old Mulberry High cheerleader, tells a dispatcher that she was called to come home to the house where she'd been staying. When she arrived, the six girls came out of different rooms and attacked her, Lindsay says.


"I just got jumped," Lindsay tells a 911 dispatcher between sobs, adding that she knows who did the beating.

Six girls, ages 14 to 17, and two boys have been charged as adults in the case, and the Polk County Sheriff's Office seized a video of the March 30 beating. They all face a variety of charges, including kidnapping.

The girls accused in the beating are April Cooper, 14; Britney Mayes, 17; Kayla Hassell, 15; Brittini Hardcastle, 17; Cara Murphy, 16; and Mercades Nichols, 17. The other two teens are Zachary Ashley, 17, and Stephen Schumaker, 18, who were accused of acting as lookouts during the incident.

All have posted bail and, most notably, Nichols' bail was paid by producers of the "Dr. Phil" McGraw show Friday night.

Sheriff Grady Judd has said the girls had threatened to post the video on YouTube and MySpace. He has said the incident was sparked by comments Lindsay posted online.

After the beating, Lindsay was dropped off at a CVS store at County Road 540A and Lakeland Highlands Road.

Lindsay says in the 911 call that the other teens dropped her off there because they didn't want Nichols' "Nana" to see what they had done. Lindsay and Nichols had been living with Nichols' grandmother.

The 911 call was made from the house of a friend in South Lakeland, who Lindsay says picked her up at the CVS.

Shortly after the call begins, the unnamed mother of the friend picks up the phone and speaks to the dispatcher.

The woman says Lindsay had a large bump near her left eye and may have broken a tooth.

"I'm a nurse and she doesn't look too good right now," she tells the dispatcher.

The mother continues to relay information from Lindsay and names two of Lindsay's attackers - Hardcastle and Nichols.

"They took her to CVS, gave her a drink and said sorry," the mother says, passing on what Lindsay, who can be heard crying in the background, tells her. "My daughter was going to get a movie and got a phone call and she picked her up at CVS and brought her here."

The Sheriff's Office has described Lindsay's injuries as including damage to one eye and a concussion.

"My daughter, herself, has had trouble with these same girls," the mother says. "They've tried to run her off the road and everything. So I do know these girls. They are just toughies around town."

The conversation ends with the dispatcher confirming that a deputy and ambulance are on their way.

In another development in the unusual case that has drawn national media attention, high-profile lawyer Gloria Allred confirmed via e-mail Tuesday that she is representing Lindsay, but declined comment for this story.

Some of Allred's past clients include Amber Frey, the girlfriend of convicted murderer Scott Peterson, and the family of Nicole Brown Simpson, according to the California-based lawyer's Web site.

[ Ledger reporter Jason Geary contributed to this story. Jeremy Maready can be reached at 863-802-7592 or jeremy.maready@theledger.com. ] This is the statement by Victoria Lindsay on her beating given to the Police. It was released on April 23, 2008. http://www.theledger.com/article/20080423/BREAKING/715147272
Geraldo Rivera interviews mother of one defendant.



Published: Friday, April 25, 2008
Some Lawyers in Beating Case Speaking Out
With gag order lifted, they seek to present different views in incident.
By Shoshana Walter
THE LEDGER
(863) 802-7590
shoshana.walter@theledger.com

LAKELAND | Now that the gag order has been lifted, a few of the lawyers representing the eight teen suspects in the March 30 beating of Victoria Lindsay they have decided it's time to talk.

Some of their clients were not as involved in the beating as the charges imply, they say, and the truth will come out as the case proceeds.

On Thursday, Melodie Lopez, who represents suspect Cara Murphy, said that all eight lawyers had agreed to challenge the gag order because they felt it was time their clients had their say.

"It's something all the defense attorneys agreed to," Lopez said at a news conference outside the Colon & Lopez law offices in Bartow. "Everything we've heard so far has come from law enforcement."

A circuit judge lifted a gag order Wednesday that had restricted Polk Sheriff Grady Judd and others from disclosing information in the videotaped beating of Lindsay, 16.

James "Rusty" Franklin, who represents Zachary Ashley, had argued that disclosures to the media, in particular comments made by Judd, were creating the "substantial likelihood" that his client could not receive a fair trial.

On Thursday, Lopez said that the initial attention drawn to the case resulted in the decision to charge all the teens as adults, rather than juveniles, regardless of how involved they were in the beating.

"When all this publicity came out originally it was very against anybody charged," Lopez said. "Everybody at that point looked at everybody the same. Because the public and the media were calling for action, they didn't feel they could be lenient."

But Murphy and some of the other teens should not have been charged with battery or kidnapping because they simply were not involved, Lopez said. And none of the teens should have been charged as adults, she said.

Lopez said Murphy was not guilty of any of the charges against her, pointing to Lindsay's witness statement as proof that Murphy had never hit Lindsay. "She was at the wrong place at the wrong time," Lopez said.

Ellis R. Faught Jr., who represents suspect Brittany Mayes, said Mayes had filmed some of the incident. Beyond that, he said, his client is innocent of her three charges.

Lawyers representing the six other teens did not return phone calls Thursday.

"We still maintain that she is not guilty," Faught said of Mayes. "I think the true facts are going to come out after a thorough investigation."

Others involved have said the same.

The mother of suspect Mercades Nichols, Christina Garcia, has long maintained that her daughter was not as involved in the beating as the Sheriff's Office has claimed, a fact that she said will come out as the case unfolds.

Garcia has said that her daughter could be heard off-camera shouting to let Lindsay leave. She has also said that Nichols never hit Lindsay.

Although the teens' pre-trial agreement prohibits them from using Internet chat rooms, social networking sites or forums, a profile claiming to belong to Mercades Nichols has appeared on MySpace.

Peace signs decorate the background of the recently-updated site, which also includes a black-and-white photo of Nichols and statements about starting anew.

"To Everyone, We all did some dumb stuff and now our futures are ruined," one paragraph reads. "Im just asking if yall can just wait until court to hear the truths and lies. I am currently moving on with a new life.[sic]"

The writer also says suspect Brittini Hardcastle is to blame for the beating.

Nichols and seven others were charged as adults with battery and kidnapping, felonies that carry maximum sentences of life in prison. The Sheriff's Office said Nichols and five other girls took turns beating and filming Lindsay on March 30 while two male teens stood outside the house as lookouts. The Sheriff's Office said the six teen girls threatened to post the video footage of the attack on MySpace and YouTube.

Those charged include Nichols, 17, April Cooper, 14, Mayes, 17, Hardcastle, 17, Murphy, 16, Stephen Schumaker, 18, and Zachary Ashley, 17, all of Lakeland, as well as Kayla Hassall, 15, of Mulberry.

Each face kidnapping and battery charges. Nichols, Mayes and Hardcastle also face a third-degree felony charge of tampering with a witness.

Those charges are not an accurate reflection of each teen's involvement in the crime, but rather a reflection of the sense of outrage at the case, Faught said.

Faught used the symbol of a funnel to describe the judicial process. At the top of the funnel swirls all the rumors, accusations and innuendos poured in by the Sheriff's Office, media outlets and Internet gossips, he said. Petering down to the bottom are the admissible facts. The truth. And that will all come out during the trial, Faught said.

[ Shoshana Walter can be reached at 863-802-7590 or shoshana.walter@theledger.com. ]

* * * * *

Published: Wednesday, April 23, 2008
8 teens charged
Statements Released In Beating Inquiry
By Jason Geary
THE LEDGER
jason.geary@theledger.com

BARTOW | Mary Nichols was disturbed as she watched the videotaped beating of 16-year-old Victoria Lindsay.

"I don't care what anybody does," Mary Nichols told a detective. "Nobody deserves to be beat like that."

Nichols, 63, was troubled that her granddaughter, Mercades, was one of eight teenagers accused of participating in the beating of the Mulberry High cheerleader that took place in Nichols' Highlands City home.

"I just want her to get well," Mary Nichols said of her 17-year-old granddaughter, according to a transcript of a taped interview with investigators. "And I really feel that it's ... a psychological thing that she needs to get some kind of help."

Nichols' statement is included in investigative reports and witness statements released by prosecutors Tuesday in the controversial case that is generating national media attention. The information came in the discovery phase of the case, in which the prosecution must share its information with the defense.

In the records, Mary Nichols said her granddaughter has a lot of anger, but has also shown compassion for stray dogs and rabbits. She had even urged Mary Nichols to let Lindsay stay with them at the home, because Lindsay didn't have any place to go.

Mary Nichols told investigators she was shocked after watching the footage.

"I was shocked that she didn't intervene and say, 'Hey, enough is enough," Mary Nichols said in the records released Tuesday. "You know you hit her once, that's it. Let her go."

Mercades Nichols and five other teenage girls are accused of filming the beating, and threatening to post it on MySpace and YouTube. April Cooper, 14, Brittany Mayes, 17, Kayla Hassall, 15, Brittini Hardcastle, 17, and Cara Murphy, 16, were also arrested.

Two males, Zachary Ashley, 17, and Stephen Schumaker, 18, are accused of acting as lookouts during the attack.

Each of the eight teens face kidnapping and battery charges. The kidnapping charges are first-degree felonies that carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. The battery charges are first-degree misdemeanors that carry a maximum sentence of a year in jail.

Nichols, Mayes and Hardcastle also face a third-degree felony charge of tampering with a witness, which carries a maximum of five years in prison.

A gag order restricts what Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd and others can release or discuss about the case. An emergency motion for one of the accused teens criticized the sheriff for releasing "a barrage of inflammatory, prejudicial information" in the case.

In the past, Judd has said the teenagers "lured" Victoria Lindsay into the beating.

"They lured her into the home for express purpose of filming the attack and posting it on the Internet," Judd said in a news release.

The newly released records provide details into the March 30 incident, including transcripts of interviews with people involved.

Lindsay told detectives she sent a text message to Mercades Nichols to tell her that she was coming back from a trip to the beach.

Nichols was upset that Lindsay hadn't repaid her $4 in gas money, and Lindsay promised to settle the debt once she got her paycheck. Lindsay said she asked Nichols why she was nagging her. Lindsay said Nichols sent her a text message telling her not to talk to her like that and that she could find somewhere else to stay.

Lindsay told the detectives that Nichols warned her "when I come in the house I better not have an attitude or her or Brittany will beat my ----- and she's not going to stop it."

But as Lindsay traveled back with a friend to Lakeland, Nichols' attitude changed and she "became very nice" and kept calling to check on her, Lindsay said.

Christine Dorsett, 19, of Orlando, was with Lindsay on the Saturday and part of Sunday - the day of the beating - and gave Lindsay a ride to the house.

Dorsett told investigators she waited about five minutes after Lindsay went into the house. Lindsay came back outside with her things because she had been kicked out of the house.

Dorsett said some girls came outside and were "cussing" at Lindsay, who was crying, and "calling her very crude names."

The girls were screaming at each other for about 20 minutes, she said. Lindsay asked the girls to let her come back for a few hours so she could find a place to go.

Dorsett said she got out of her car and encouraged the girls to let Lindsay use a telephone. Nichols agreed to let Lindsay go inside.

"So she went inside and I left," Dorsett said. "And, then, I guess, we found out the next day that they had beaten her up, she was in the hospital."

Included in the documents is a report by sheriff's Detective Ricky Newman who wrote that Schumaker changed his story when the tape recorder was turned on during an interview.

Newman wrote that Schumaker admitted previously in an untaped interview to overhearing the girls planning to jump Lindsay and posting the video on MySpace and YouTube.

The detective also wrote that Schumaker told him Ashley warned the girls to quiet down because neighbors were getting suspicious.

Schumaker said in his taped statement that he and Ashley saw the girls arguing outside the house while sitting on a nearby porch.

Schumaker said he and Ashley went to a gas station and came back. "Then I don't know what the heck happened inside the house," he said.

Newman attempted to get a copy of a surveillance video from the gas station, but the footage from that night had been recorded over, reports state.

[ Jason Geary can be reached at jason.geary@theledger.com or 863-802-7536.
SCOTT WHEELER | THE LEDGER Mercades Nichols,17, at her first appearance in the Central County Jail in Bartow. She is one of eight teenagers accused of taking part in a videotaped beating of a 16-year-old Lakeland girl. All eight will be charged as adults.


* * * * *

Report: Girls In Cheerleader Beating Joked In Holding Cell After Arrests
Sheriff: They Show No Remorse, Should Be Charged As Adults

April 8, 2008
Orlando
Local6.com
POLK COUNTY, Fla. -- Cheerleaders accused of an "animalistic" ambush beating on a girl joked in a holding cell after their arrests and wondered about missing cheer practice after the alleged attack, according to a report. PHOTOS: Attack Lasted 30 Minutes "They seem to have absolutely no remorse at all," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said. "I don't understand the sheer violence."

Video of the Florida girl being punched and beaten at a Polk County home has gained national attention in recent days.

Judd said that he now wants the six girls and two boys involved in the attack charged as adults.

Sheriff: Girls Set Trap

Investigators said the victim apparently posted something against the six girls on MySpace before she was lured to the home by a phone call from teen Mercedes Nichols.

Police said the girl traveled to the house and walked into the trap.

One girl met her at the door and five others were hiding in a back room, detectives said. The girls were then seen on video pummeling the girl in the face and body and slamming her head into a wall.

As the videotape rolled, a girl's voice is heard yelling, "There is only 17 seconds left; make it good."

Police said the girls wanted to post the video on YouTube and MySpace.

"'There is only 17 seconds left; make it good,'" Judd said. "That is animalistic behavior and it is pack mentality. They lured her there to beat her and beat her. They left her with a concussion. We have photographs of her with two black eyes; her nose is swollen."

The girl was taken to a hospital by ambulance and treated for a concussion, damage to her left eye and left ear, and numerous bruises, the report said.

The girl can no longer see well out of one eye and hear from one ear, Local 6 reported.

Police said two boys stood lookout outside the house during the beating.

Some of the girls accused of being involved in the attack were on a cheerleading squad at a local high school in Lakeland.

Following their arrests, some of the girls joked in a holding cell, the Lakeland Ledger reported.

One girl asked if she would be able to make it to cheerleading practice the next day, the report said.

The six girls and two boys face battery and false imprisonment charges.


Copyright 2008 by Internet Broadcasting Systems and Local6.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
ERNST PETERS | THE LEDGER
TALISA LINDSAY AND HUSBAND PATRICK LINDSAY talk to reporters Monday in Lakeland about the March 30 assault on their daughter, Victoria, by a group of teen girls. .




Victoria Lindsay's father Patrick discusses the aftermath of the attack on his 16 year-old daughter in Lakeland, Florida.

Beating Victim: Victoria Lindsay Attacked by Eight Classmates
By Brenda Davis
Apr 8, 2008

Cheerleader Victoria Lindsay was attacked by eight of her classmates and the entire beating was caught on video and then posted on the World Wide Web. The attackers claim she was posting nasty messages about them online and the police say that one girl lured her into a home where she was savagely attacked. Six girls beat on her, while two boys stood as look-outs.
Victoria Lindsay Attacked by Eight Classmates (NBC)

All have been charged. Some of the girls laughed and joked when they were arrested and asked the police of they would be out in time to make it to cheerleader practice. Others wondered if their detention would be so long it would keep them from going to the beach.

***

According to a report from the NBC Today show those that are facing charges of battery, false imprisonment and kidnapping are Mercades Nichols, 17, Brittini Hardcastle, 17, April Cooper, 14, Cara Murphy, 16, Britney Mayes, 17, Kayla Hassell, 15, Zachary Ashley, 17, and Stephen Schumaker, 18.

A mother of one of the girls went on television to try and defend the attack and claims that the beating is being blown out of proportion. Mercades Nichols mom Christina Garcia says that her daughter tried to warn Victoria Lindsay. But police say she was the one that lured her to the home.

***

Nichols doesn't even live with the mother, the same woman that tried to excuse the attack, she lives with her grandmother and that is the home where the attack to place and was filmed. The video is here. Police say they want to make an example of the attackers, especially since they have shown no remorse.
NBC NEWS Today Show April 8, 2008 Girls Record Brutal Attack On Teen To Allegedly Post On YouTube

POSTED: 5:14 pm EDT April 7, 2008
UPDATED: 7:43 am EDT April 8, 2008

[NEWSVINE: Girls Record Brutal Attack On Teen To Allegedly Post On YouTube] [DELICIOUS: Girls Record Brutal Attack On Teen To Allegedly Post On YouTube] [DIGG: Girls Record Brutal Attack On Teen To Allegedly Post On YouTube] [FACEBOOK: Girls Record Brutal Attack On Teen To Allegedly Post On YouTube] [REDDIT: Girls Record Brutal Attack On Teen To Allegedly Post On YouTube] [RSS] [PRINT: Girls Record Brutal Attack On Teen To Allegedly Post On YouTube] [EMAIL: Girls Record Brutal Attack On Teen To Allegedly Post On YouTube]
POLK COUNTY, Fla. -- Video was released late Monday afternoon showing a brutal beating at the hands of a gang of teenage girls. Their motivation for the attack was allegedly so they could post the video on YouTube and MySpace.

MUG SHOTS: See Photos Of All 8 Suspects Arrested In Attack
SLIDESHOW: Images From Video Show Brutal Attack On Teen
RAW VIDEO: Brutal Attack On Teen Girl Caught On Video
READ: Sheriff's News Release On Arrest Of Teens In Attack (PDF)
VIDEO REPORT: 8 Teens Arrested After Brutal Attack On Girl

The victim reported the attack after she was beaten so badly she had to be treated at the hospital. That's when the sheriff's office started looking into it and learned about the video.

The sheriff calls it shocking, saying he's never seen anything like it. It was a vicious attack all captured on home video inside a Polk County home.

When 16-year-old Victoria Lindsay arrived at her friend's house where she had been staying, six girls were waiting. Immediately, they started yelling and one girl began pummeling the victim.

On the video, the girls can be heard encouraging the fight in the background, even taunting Lindsay to fight back, all while one of them held the camera. The victim's family has said it was an elaborate plot to injure and embarrass Victoria Lindsay. Lindsay's parents couldn't believe their daughter had to endure the attack.

"That's my Tori. Don't do that to my Tori," said the victim's mother.

The 16-year-old suffered a concussion, eye injuries and several bruises. During the attack, two others were outside keeping watch according to the sheriff's office.

In fact, the sheriff said, Lindsay was lured into the home for the sole purpose of capturing and posting the video on the Internet. According to the sheriff's office arrest affidavit, Lindsay told deputies they "were going to post the beating on MySpace and YouTube."

Instead, it's the sheriff's office that ended up releasing it to the media and now all eight suspects accused of making it happen are charged with very serious crimes. All suspects face charges for false imprisonment and battery. Three of them were charged with kidnapping because, the sheriff's office said, they forced Lindsay into a car and drove her to another location after the beating.

The suspects were identified as 17-year-old Mercades Nichols, 17-year-old Brittini Hardcastle, 14-year-old April Cooper, 16-year-old Cara Murphy, 17-year-old Britney Mayes and 15-year-old Kayla Hassell. Zachary Ashley, 17, and Stephen Schumaker, 18, were identified by deputies as the lookouts.

"They weren't really involved, I don't know. I'm just overwhelmed by all of it. I don't know why the girls have them involved," said Debbie Shumaker, Stephen's mother.

All six of the girls attend Mulberry High School, according to the sheriff's office arrest affidavit.

Copyright 2008 by wftv.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed
video
Published: Thursday, April 10, 2008
controversial case
Judge Restricts Beating Information
Sheriff Grady Judd is the primary focus of emergency motion filed by teen.
By JASON GEARY
THE LEDGER

BARTOW | A circuit judge Wednesday [April 9, 2008] restricted what information Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd and others can release to the public about the brutal videotaped beating of a 16-year-old Lakeland girl.

Circuit Judge J. Michael McCarthy


Judd was the primary focus of an emergency motion made by one of eight teenagers charged in the case, which has sparked national media attention.

Judd released a statement disagreeing with the judge's decision, defending his ability to speak freely and announcing he would appeal the ruling.

"If the issues and facts related to this case were not of great public importance it would not have generated national interest and awareness," Judd said.

Circuit Judge J. Michael McCarthy placed restrictions on the defendants, lawyers, court personnel, law enforcement and witnesses in the case.

McCarthy stressed that he wasn't imposing any restrictions upon the press. However, his order could significantly limit what information is available.

Gregg D. Thomas, a lawyer representing The Ledger and the Orlando Sentinel, said he was also considering an appeal.

After Wednesday's hearing, Thomas said he had never seen such an expansive order. The controversial videotaped beating and its prevalence on the Internet likely drove the decision, he said.

"I am surprised the judge entered an order like this," Thomas said.

James "Rusty" Franklin, who represents Zachary Ashley, 17, argued that disclosures to the media about the case are creating the "substantial likelihood" that his client cannot receive a fair trial.

Franklin's motion says Judd has released "a barrage of inflammatory, prejudicial information," even characterizing the teens as having "animalistic behavior" and a "pack mentality."

Franklin said educating the public is an important task.

"You don't do that by calling children animals, by saying they had a pack mentality."

Thomas argued before McCarthy that the seven teenagers would go before a judge, not a jury, because their cases are in juvenile court.

Even if they were charged as adults, their cases wouldn't go to trial for many months, Thomas said. A judge could use other methods to ensure a fair trial, such as sequestering a jury or conducting extensive jury selection.

Cassandra Denmark, a lawyer representing Judd, defended the sheriff for shedding light on a "disturbing new trend" and a danger to the public.

"We do our best at the Sheriff's Office to prevent future crime," Denmark said.

Gagging the sheriff would be like gagging the press, she said.

Six teenage girls are accused of filming the March 30 beating of Victoria Lindsay and threatening to post it on MySpace and YouTube.

The Sheriff's Office has said the girls were upset with Lindsay over her "trash-talking."

April Cooper, 14, Britney Mayes, 17, Kayla Hassell, 15, Brittini Hardcastle, 17, Cara Murphy, 16, and Mercades Nichols, 17, were arrested on charges of felony battery and false imprisonment, affidavits state.

In addition, Mays, Hardcastle and Nichols were arrested on charges of kidnapping on suspicion of forcing Lindsay into a vehicle and dropping her off at another location.

The Sheriff's Office has accused two males, Ashley and Stephen Schumaker, 18, of acting as lookouts during the beating. They were also arrested on charges of felony battery and false imprisonment, affidavits state.

Judd's written response to Franklin's motion cites a case involving The Ledger.

In 2002, the Polk County Sheriff's Office had obtained a temporary injunction barring The Ledger from publishing the name of an undercover detective involved in a fatal shooting.

Circuit Judge Ron Herring then ruled in favor of The Ledger and forced the Sheriff's Office to release the identity. The 2nd District Court of Appeal later affirmed Herring's ruling.

"The Polk County Sheriff's Office learned from the Second District Court of Appeal the importance given by the Court to the protection of the press' First Amendment Freedoms taking precedent over any Gag Order," Judd's response states.

[Reporter Jason Geary can be reached at jason.geary@theledger.com or (863) 802-7536.]

* * * * *

Published: Wednesday, April 9, 2008
'Cyberbullying' studied
Questions Remain About Beating
By Shoshana Walter
THE LEDGER
Write an email to Shoshana Walter
Shoshana WalterShoshana Walter
Police Reporter
Dept.: Metro Desk
(863) 802-7590
shoshana.walter@theledger.com

LAKELAND | There are still many unanswered questions about the case in which sheriff's officials say six teen girls filmed a brutal, profanity-ridden beating of a 16-year-old schoolmate while threatening to post the video on MySpace and YouTube.

PROVIDED TO THE LEDGER
Victoria Lindsay

Why would something like this happen? Anger? Jealousy? Peer pressure?

How could "trash-talking" on MySpace, as Sheriff Grady Judd has described what preceded the events, lead to such violence?

While some of the answers remain on digital lockdown, the case provides an opportunity for researchers who study "cyberbullying" to explore how some teens' use of the Internet can have real-life repercussions.

Teenage bullying is nothing new, but with the Internet, more and more teens are experiencing and exhibiting bad online behavior, said Justin Patchin, professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

In a 2005 study conducted by Patchin and Sameer Hinduja, a Criminology professor at Florida Atlantic University, 34.4 percent of adolescents reported experiencing some kind of cyberbullying. Forty percent said they had been disrespected online.

Users often feel less inhibited in online interactions than they would in person, Patchin said.

"I can say something and not have to deal with the immediate consequences," he said. "Some of that speaks to this incident."

"Trash-talking" between members of the group on MySpace and through text messages led up to the beating, Judd has said.

According to the mother of one of the suspects, the victim of the beating, Victoria Lindsay of Lakeland, posted numerous MySpace bulletins, or public messages, insulting the girls. Lindsay called them names and claimed the girls wouldn't fight her because they were too scared, said Christina Garcia, mother of Mercades Nichols.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Donna Wood said that whatever was on Lindsay's MySpace profile before the incident had been deleted by the time detectives gained access to the Web page.

Lindsay's parents, who did not return phone calls Tuesday, have said that in the past Lindsay's MySpace page had been "hacked" or broken into by someone who placed false messages there.

Whatever happened, "People are much braver when you don't have to say it to someone's face," said Beth Manke, professor of Human Development at California State-Long Beach.

Face-to-face conversation can diffuse conflict, she said, while online conversations can often prolong it.

"You bottle up emotions, and sometimes they explode," Manke said.

According to investigators, Lindsay was attacked by the six teens about 8:30 p.m. March 30 at 6124 Calendar Court in Lakeland.

Lindsay had been living there for about a week because she was having problems at home with her parents, the Sheriff's Office said. The house belongs to the grandmother of one of the suspects, Mercades Nichols, who was also living there.

Six girls - April Cooper, Cara Murphy, Britney Mayes, Brittini Hardcastle, Kayla Hassell and Nichols - held down Lindsay and took turns beating and kicking her, while two boys, Zachary Ashley and Stephen Schumaker, 18, stood outside the house as lookouts, according to the Sheriff's Office. The girls and Ashley range in age from 14 to 17 years old.

In the three-minute video, Hardcastle is seen pummeling Lindsay while the others egg her on. As Lindsay runs for the front door, Hardcastle and others scream at her, referring to MySpace messages and demanding to know why she doesn't like some of the other girls.

"You talk … on MySpace all the time," Hardcastle shouts.

Later she points to various people off-camera: "Why don't you like her?"

As the blows continue, Lindsay covers her face while the girls scream at her to fight back.

"They were seeking revenge," Patchin said. "Trying to show what the victim was really like - that she was weak and couldn't speak up for herself. They were putting her in her place."

Fights are not out of the ordinary, Patchin said. What was unique about this particular incident was the use of video.

"If this had happened 20 years ago, other people wouldn't see it," he said. "With traditional bullying, it's your word against mine. They might hear stories about it, but they would never know for sure that it happened.

Now the video is everywhere for people to see."

Spokesmen for MySpace and YouTube said Tuesday that the beating video had never been posted to their sites. Neither Web site allows videos that depict violence or illegal activity. But while MySpace reviews every video upon upload, YouTube is regulated by users who report videos they deem inappropriate. At that point, a spokesman said, YouTube reviews the video to determine whether it fits policy.

Many YouTube videos depicting violence go unreported. As a result, videos depicting fights are readily available online.

"Our culture is becoming more and more desensitized to violence," FAU's Hinduja said.

But Hinduja said sites like YouTube and MySpace also serve important purposes for teens shaping their sense of identity. They provide forums for self-expression and allow teens to experiment with how they represent themselves, he said.

While the Internet is relatively new, Hinduja says the solutions are fairly old.

Parents and teachers must dive into the depths of cyberspace, learn more about the Web sites their kids are using, and teach them to have empathy for others, as well as themselves, he said.

[ Shoshana Walter can be reached at shoshana.walter@theledger.com or 863-802-7590. ]

* * * * *


Published: Sunday, April 20, 2008
Beating Suspect Had an Existing Restraint Order
By Shoshana Walter
The Ledger
Write an email to Shoshana Walter
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Police Reporter
Dept.: Metro Desk
(863) 802-7590
shoshana.walter@theledger.com
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Four months before the videotaped beating of Victoria Lindsay, the ex-boyfriend of one of the suspects filed a restraining order against her, according to a report from the Polk County Sheriff's Office.

The injunction, filed by Jacob Johns of Mulberry in November, was for protection against Mercades Nichols for dating violence, the report said.

Nichols violated the injunction Feb. 14, after she sent numerous text messages to Johns' phone and delivered him a Valentine's Day gift through friend Brittany Hardcastle, another suspect in the beating.

According to Nichols' mother, Christina Garcia, it was not the first time the injunction had been violated.

Following the restraining order, Johns and Nichols continued to have contact. He also had been sending her text messages.

Johns and his mother, Peggy Smith, could not be reached for comment late Saturday night.

Garcia said Smith pressured Johns to file the restraining order because she did not approve of the relationship. Garcia also did not approve of the relationship, she said, because Johns was also violent toward Nichols. The two had dated for about a year after meeting in agriculture class at Mulberry High School, Garcia said.

They spent all of their time together, despite frequent physical and verbal fights. In the summer of 2007, the two decided to have a baby because they felt that would keep them together, Garcia said. Nichols told Garcia about the plan after she got pregnant, Garcia said. But about two months later, the two got into another fight and Nichols had a miscarriage, she said.

Nichols had thought about filing an injunction about the same time Johns petitioned for one against her, Garcia said, but the mother told Nichols it would look like retaliation if she were to file for one.

Following the Valentine's Day incident, Nichols was charged with violating the injunction, a first-degree misdemeanor, and aggravated stalking, a third-degree felony, the Sheriff's Office report said.

"It speaks for itself," Garcia said of the report. But she said she was angry about the media's focus on Nichols' past. "These are teenagers, they all have teenage mentalities ... None of these children are angels, including the victim," she said.

Mercades and five other teen girls are accused of beating Lindsay on March 30 as two boys stood outside the house as lookouts. The girls filmed the beating while threatening to post it on YouTube and MySpace, the Sheriff's Office has said.

They are all charged as adults with battery and kidnapping.

"Trash-talking" on MySpace between Lindsay and the other girls led up to the beating, according to the Sheriff's Office.

[ Shoshana Walter can be reached at 863-802-7590 or shoshana.walter@theledger.com. ]






* * * * *

Published: Thursday, April 10, 2008
Couple Harassed by Misinformed Callers
They have the same last name as one of the young suspects in beating case.
By Shoshana Walter
THE LEDGER
(863) 802-7590
shoshana.walter@theledger.com

LAKELAND | Darlene and Jerry Ashley of Lakeland had just begun to doze off about 1 a.m. Wednesday when the phone rang.

Darlene Ashley

Darlene groggily reached over into the darkness.

"Hello?"

Click.

The hang-up was just the beginning.

The Ashleys received calls throughout the night from people asking for the "disgraceful" parents of Zachary Ashley, the teen suspected of serving as a lookout while six girls beat up another teen inside a Lakeland home.

The only problem is - Darlene and Jerry Ashley are not Zachary Ashley's parents. The couple have never had children. They are not even related to Zachary.

But thanks to a comment posted on YouTube, Ashley is convinced that the entire nation thinks she and her husband are.

After the filmed beating was released by the Polk County Sheriff's Office and debuted online, a vengeful user compiled a list of the names, addresses and phone numbers for the eight teens charged in the beating and posted the information on the Web site, urging others to spread it around. It has since been posted many times.

POLICE CAN'T HELP

But instead of Zachary Ashley's information, Darlene and Jerry Ashley's phone number and address were added to the list, resulting in a deluge of calls from all over the country.

Many calls are death threats. There are hang-ups, rants and impersonations.

Others are attacks on Darlene Ashley's mothering skills.

Now the Lakeland couple, who have lived in their house for more than 10 years, find themselves in the middle of a mess they never helped make.

In total, the Ashleys estimated they received more than 300 calls Wednesday.

Darlene Ashley called Lakeland police to the house, but they told her that unless something happened, there was nothing they could do, she said.

The phone continued to ring every two or three minutes, Darlene Ashley said, beginning after the first call at 1 a.m. Wednesday. Most of the calls have come from out of state, she said.

Although spokeswomen for Lakeland police and the Sheriff's Office said they were not aware of any reports of threatening phone calls, Ashley said the Sheriff's Office told her she was definitely not alone.

Christina Garcia, the mother of suspect Mercades Nichols, said she has also been harassed. Since Nichols' arrest, the grandmother with whom she had been living has received nonstop calls. Her car was even scratched, Garcia said.

Families of the other suspects did not return calls Wednesday.

Darlene Ashley, 42, shook her head, wide-eyed as she listened to messages on her answering machine Wednesday evening. As the calls continued, Ashley said she was at her wit's end and criticized the sheriff for releasing the video.

"He was so fast to put it out there. Well, now he's created another victim," she said.

LESSON NOT LEARNED

During the beating, the teens had threatened to post the video on MySpace and YouTube, the Sheriff's Office has said.

Representatives from the two Web sites said the videos had not been posted online until the Sheriff's Office released the video.

The Sheriff's Office has said releasing the video was meant to be a lesson to parents to watch out for their children.

The Ashleys said people have not learned the lesson.

The threats of violence the Ashleys have received are exactly what the callers claim to condemn, Jerry Ashley, 48, said.

"They're on the same level as the people they're speaking about," Ashley said.

He said the callers are exacting their own punishment before the teens' case has even been tried in court.

"If everybody is worked up into a tizzy, the judicial system has no chance of working," he said.

VIGILANTE JUSTICE

Vigilante justice is one way to describe the threats, said Justin Patchin, a criminology professor at the University of Wisconsin.

Despite their condemnation of the beating, those who have called the families of the suspects as well as the Ashleys might feel their behavior is justified because they think parents of the girls deserve it, he said.

It is the same rationale those involved in the beating likely used to justify the violence: In their eyes, Victoria Lindsay deserved it, he said.

"That's a normal response," Patchin said, but much like the teens' physical retaliation, "We have to step away from that knee-jerk reaction."

It's adults, not just adolescents, who bully online, Patchin said. Because of the Internet's immediacy, it's easy to write or post something without thinking through the consequence's of one's actions.

Those actions can have real-life repercussions, he said. Now that the list of phone numbers and addresses has been posted online, the Ashleys may never stop receiving calls.

"The Internet is viral in nature," Patchin said. "Just like the video, it starts out small and spreads out quickly. Once something's out there online it's impossible to erase it."

By Wednesday evening, YouTube had removed all of the beating videos, including the posted comments, but Darlene and Jerry Ashley's information, under Zachary Ashley's name, is still readily available with a search online. So are videos of other fights on YouTube.

But despite YouTube's efforts, the beating film is still just a click away.

[ Shoshana Walter can be reached at shoshana.walter@theledger.com or 863-802-7590. ]

Published: Friday, April 11, 2008

Suspects in Beating to Be Tried as Adults
By JASON GEARY
THE LEDGER

BARTOW | Eight teenagers accused of taking part in a videotaped beating of a 16-year-old Lakeland girl will all be tried as adults, according to the State Attorney's Office.

This latest development has thrown even more attention on the already controversial case, which has drawn national media scrutiny and spawned an expansive gag order attempting to keep a lid on the volatile situation.

Six girls are accused of luring Victoria Lindsay to a home so they could film her brutal beating. The youngest of them is 14 years old.

The Sheriff's Office has said the girls were upset with Lindsay over her "trash-talking" and threatened to post the footage on MySpace and YouTube.

They include April Cooper, 14, Britney Mayes, 17, Kayla Hassell, 15, Brittini Hardcastle, 17, Cara Murphy, 16, and Mercades Nichols, 17.

Two boys, Zachary Ashley, 17, and Stephen Schumaker, 18, are accused of acting as lookouts during the attack.

Each teen faces kidnapping and battery charges. The kidnapping charges are first-degree felonies that carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. The battery charges are first-degree misdemeanors that carry a maximum sentence of a year in jail.

Mayes, Hardcastle and Nichols also face a third-degree felony charge of tampering with a witness, which carries a maximum of five years in prison.

Schumaker, who was originally charged as an adult, had posted bail for charges of false imprisonment and felony battery and was released April 4 from Polk County Jail.

The others were taken from the juvenile assessment center - where they've been since their arrest last week - for booking into the jail. They are expected to have their first appearances today.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office would not release whether the teens were being held in protective custody at the jail, citing a court order restricting information about the beating case.

But with the teens no longer in juvenile court, lawyers questioned whether Circuit Judge J. Michael McCarthy's ruling remained in effect.

McCarthy restricted Wednesday what information Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd and others could disclose.

James 'Rusty' Franklin, who represents Ashley, filed an emergency motion Thursday requesting that Keith Spoto, an acting circuit judge, adopt McCarthy's order to protect his client's right to a fair trial.

Spoto, a county judge who was recently selected by Gov. Charlie Crist to become a circuit judge, adopted the ruling.

Gregg Thomas, a lawyer representing The Ledger and the Orlando Sentinel, said he would request that Spoto reconsider the ruling. He hoped to schedule a hearing early next week.

[ Reporter Jason Geary can be reached at jason.geary@theledger.com or 863-802-7536. ]

* * * * *

Published: Friday, April 11, 2008
DOUBLE THE NORMAL LEVEL
Bail Set for Teens in Video-Taped Beating Case
Ledger Staff

BARTOW | Eight teens arrested in connection with a video-taped beating appeared before a judge today to hear the new, upgraded charges against them and to be given bail amounts.

The charges were changed Thursday, and they made their first appearance Friday before County Judge Angela Cowden, who set bail on them at double the amounts normally set for the charges they face.

Six girls are accused of luring another teen, Victoria Lindsay, 16, to a Highland City home so they could film her brutal beating. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office has said the girls were upset with Lindsey over comments she made on the Internet.

They are accused of threatening to post the March 30 video-taped beating on two sites, YouTube and MySpace.

Seven of the eight are younger than 18, but are now being charged as adults. The six girls are April Cooper, 14; Britney Mayes, 17; Kayla Hassell, 15; Brittini Hardcastle, 17; Cara Murphy, 16; and Mercades Nichols, 17. The other two are Zachary Ashley, 17, and Stephen Schumaker, 18, who are accused of acting as lookouts during the attack.

Cowden said bail on the kidnapping charges at $30,000 for each defendant, double the normal $15,000. Six received $1,000 bail on battery charges, and two, Hardcastle and Cooper, received $5,000 bail on that charge. Three defendants, Mayes, Hardcastle and Nichols, received $2,000 bail on witness tampering charges.

As they appeared before the judge on video cameras from the Polk County Jail, most of the girls tried to shield their face with their hands from news cameras. Some hid behind their long hair. Ashley shook his head through the majority of the reading of his charges.

If they are released on bail, all will be on what is considered house arrest conditions, and they are banned from using the Internet forums, including MySpace and YouTube, and they are forbidden to have any contact with each other, the victim or victim’s family members.

They also cannot have any contact with Mulberry High School, where all six defendants and the victim were students and Lindsay and at least one other girl are cheerleaders.

Lindsay’s parents said they were withdrawing her for the rest of the year and that she would be homeschooled. The others were automatically withdrawn from school when they were charged with felonies.

This is a link to a story about a MySpace page of one of the defendants. http://www.theledger.com/article/20080504/NEWS/805040390

This is a link to a story about lawyers for the defendants speaking out. http://www.theledger.com/article/20080425/NEWS/804250398
Published: Friday, May 16, 2008
New Video Documents More of Beating
Footage may show the start of the infamous attack on a Mulberry teen.
By Jason Geary
THE LEDGER
Write an email to Jason Geary
Jason Geary
Courts Reporter
Dept.: Metro Desk

jason.geary@theledger.com


BARTOW | The purple bruises around Victoria Lindsay's eyes show a glimpse of the damage done to the 17-year-old former Mulberry High cheerleader following her infamous videotaped pummeling.

Prosecutors released new footage and photographs Thursday in the controversial case that has sparked national media attention.

Six teenage girls are accused of filming the March 30 beating of Lindsay and threatening to post it on MySpace and YouTube. Two boys are accused of serving as lookouts. Sheriff Grady Judd has said the girls "lured" Lindsay to the home for the purpose of filming the attack.

The recently released videos and photographs came in the discovery phase of the case, in which the prosecution must share its information with the defense.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office previously released a clip that lasts about three minutes and shows some of the attack. The three new clips run about seven minutes, and one appears to capture the first blows.

In the video, some girls are interrogating Lindsay about who she has had sex with, and accusing her of trash talking over the telephone and online.

"You want to talk over the phone," one girl shouts at Lindsay. "You want to talk over the computer. So now is the time to talk to my face."

"I'm telling you right now that I was drunk and it was stupid and I've grown up since then," Lindsay says.

"You haven't," the girl says. "You really haven't."

A few moments later as they continue to argue, the girl suddenly swings her right hand, striking Lindsay's face. Lindsay falls on the bed, and the girl is on top of her, punching rapidly. She manages to get up and retreats into a dark living room where the shouting continues.

Lindsay asks for a cellular phone and indicates the attack was "planned."

A girl not visible because of the darkness inside the room questions Lindsay about whether she was told to leave.

"Someone just give me a phone," Lindsay says, crying. "I will leave if you all hate me. That's fine. I'll leave."

"We all do - so go," one girl replies.

"I need a phone," Lindsay says. "I have nowhere to go."

"Someone get her a phone," a girl says. "You brought this all on yourself, honey. All of it. It's no one's fault but yours."

After a few more moments as the yelling continues, it appears someone near the video camera suggests turning on some light, perhaps to better capture the events unfolding. A lamp comes on, illuminating the room.

Lindsay told detectives in a taped statement that after the beating she was packing her belongings and Britini Hardcastle came in with a camera to take a picture of the "aftermath."

One photograph released shows a hand in the left lower corner holding what looks like a cellular phone.

After the beating, Lindsay was taken to the hospital where she was treated "for a concussion, damage to her left eye and left ear, and numerous bruises," an arrest report states.

Other photographs released Thursday show Lindsay, dressed in different clothing than on the video, sporting black eyes and slight bruising on her legs and arms. Investigative reports state a detective took pictures of Lindsay's injuries on April 2.

Gloria Allred, a California lawyer who represents Lindsay, said Lindsay is being home schooled and is looking forward to graduating soon. Her birthday was Tuesday.

"She is doing as well as she can be under the circumstances," Allred said. "She is still under the care of a doctor. Obviously, this would be traumatic to anyone."

Each of the eight teenage defendants faces battery and kidnapping charges.

The girls arrested are Mercades Nichols, 17, April Cooper, 14, Brittany Mayes, 17, Kayla Hassall, 15, Brittini Hardcastle, 17, and Cara Murphy, 16.

Nichols, Mayes and Hardcastle also face a charge of tampering with a witness.

Zachary Ashley, 17, and Stephen Schumaker, 18, are accused of serving as lookouts outside the house during the incident.

Schumaker is back in jail. He was charged with driving with a suspended license, and booked into the Polk County Jail on Tuesday, jail records show.

Jason Geary can be reached at jason.geary@theledger.com or 863-802-7536.





Suspect Wants to Discuss Beating
One of eight teenagers charged asks permission to travel, give interviews.

By Bill Rufty
The Ledger

Published: Sunday, June 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, June 1, 2008 at 8:19 a.m.
SCOTT WHEELER | THE LEDGER
Mercades Nichols,17, at her first appearance in the Central County Jail in Bartow. She is one of eight teenagers accused of taking part in a videotaped beating of a 16-year-old Lakeland girl. All eight will be charged as adults.

BARTOW | Mercades Nichols, one of eight teens charged as adults in the March beating of 16-year-old Victoria Lindsay, wants permission to talk publicly about the case and travel out of state to give interviews, according to a written request filed in Circuit Court.

The motion to modify the terms of Nichols' pretrial release also requests eliminating her house arrest conditions and allowing her to get a job.

Nichols' lawyer, James Holz, said he was advised to file the motion after asking permission from a court employee for Nichols to speak with the media and "issue a possible apology."

A hearing on the motion is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday in Circuit Court before Judge Keith Spoto.

Lindsay had been living with Nichols in Lakeland for about a week March 30 when, the Polk County Sheriff's Office has said, she was attacked by six female schoolmates after arriving home. They filmed the beating and threatened to post the video on MySpace and YouTube. Two male teens stood watch as lookouts outside the home, the Sheriff's Office said.

Polk County Judge Angela J. Cowden charged all eight as adults and set stringent terms for their release before trial.

Nichols, 17, has been charged with kidnaping with intent to bodily harm or terrorize, battery, and tampering with a witness.

The terms of Nichols' release set by Cowden include no contact with Lindsay or her family; staying away from all Mulberry High School functions; no contact with co-defendants or their immediate families; not using MySpace, YouTube or any Internet chat rooms, social networking Web sites or opinion forums; not discussing the incident with anyone except her lawyer; not leaving the house except for specific purposes listed by the court; a curfew of 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.; and reporting to the 10th Judicial Circuit's Pretrial Release Services Program three times a week. Holz said in the request for modification that "the evidence against her is limited and does not demonstrate any risk of flight nor a danger to the community or any of its citizens."

Holz stated in the filing that he asked Barbara Snead of Pretrial Release Services for permission for Nichols to speak with reporters and "issue a possible apology." He said Snead advised him to file the motion, which requests that the court change Nichols' pretrial release restrictions by:

deleting the house arrest conditions,

deleting restrictions on talking publicly about the case,

allowing her to travel under parental and legal supervision out of state to give interviews relating to the case,

allowing her to get a job.

[ Bill Rufty can be reached at 802-7523 or bill.rufty@theledger.com. ]


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