On Tuesday, the three teen boys who were involved in lighting Devin Lewis’s hair on a school bus back in February entered pleas to reduce the charges pending against them. And this time, I think the lesser punishment is not only appropriate but is necessary to allow the whole community to continue the good work they have started.
Let me remind you about this case which I blogged about in February. Devin Lewis, a 16-year old from Middletown, Ohio, was riding the bus home from school minding his own business listening to music when someone sitting in back of him pulled off his hood. A male student held a lighter in front of Devin’s face, causing his head to jerk back. At that moment, according to Lewis and police reports, another male student lit his hair on fire. Devin was not hurt, although the attack left his hair badly singed.
Two of the three boys, a 15-year old and 17-year old were charged with aggravated arson and assault, and aggravated menacing. But on Tuesday, they entered “true” pleas to a lesser charge of attempted aggravated assault. Judge Kathleen Romans ordered that they be returned to Juvenile Detention Center until they appear for sentencing. They have already served 60 days.
The third boy, a 16-year old, was originally charged with obstruction of official business because, according to police, he didn’t cooperate when they questioned him about his part in the incident. He pleaded to the lesser charge of disorderly conduct and was placed on home incarceration until sentencing.
It was rather interesting that before the 17-year old, Kyle Napier, entered his plea, he had his attorney read an apology for what he had done: “He is very sorry for what occurred,” Napier’s lawyer read. “(The defendant) always considered the victim in this case to be a close friend. … He still considers him a friend.”
Now, you may recall that on April 5, I did a follow-up about Middletown High School and the anti-bullying campaign which was launched as a result of this incident. They have worked together to produce Public Service Announcements to support Devin and to spread the message that bullying needs to stop.
Lewis said that the launching of this multimedia campaign has made a difference, and he advises other kids like him to “Stand up for yourself because you’re not always going to be as lucky as I am, to have people stand up for you.”
Devin’s mother, Stephanie McKeehan, had this to say about the way the community rallied around her son: “They’ve sent him cards and letters of encouragement, so the support of the students has been very good.”
Under these circumstances, it is possible that the acceptance of these pleas, while clearly advantageous for the three boys involved, might also be the best outcome for Devin and for the community of Middletown as well.
As a result of the support Devin has received, he seems to have moved on, and after he heard the news, he expressed relief that he would not have to testify in the trail. He also said he was glad that Kyle still considered him to be a friend. So, it sounds like Devin has forgiven these boys and just wants to get back to normalcy.
And the community of Middletown has grown closer and seems to be making a valiant effort to turn something that cast a negative shadow over their community into an opportunity to make a difference for so many kids just like Devon who have had to face bullying. A high-profile trial would simply stir up the shadow, deterring these courageous, young people from the vital task they have set themselves to.
On May 27, the three boys will be back to the courtroom for sentencing. In the meantime, they have all been expelled from their school for a year and will only be able to return to school at the end of that year if they are under the age of 18.
Punishment. The possibility of rehabilitation and healing. A successful anti-bullying campaign. A boy who once felt alone, now has the support of many.
I call this justice.