St. Clair County District Court Judge Alan Furr denied a motion by attorneys representing four of the seven seniors charged with burglary and criminal mischief in the May 16 vandalism at Pell City High School.
Those charged as adults for first-degree criminal mischief and third-degree burglary, both Class C felonies, are Samuel McCloud, 18, Alexander Hopson, 19, Jonathan Grimes Jr., 18, Haley White, 18, Desmond Dawkins, 19, Jarrod Chatman, 18, and Devon Jones, 18. A juvenile was also charged in the incident.
Furr told defense attorneys that it was his decision, not school authorities, to set conditions of the $5,000 bonds for the students.
In accordance with the bond condition, Furr ordered that the students not return to school grounds while out on bond or until the criminal case was concluded.
The 2012 high school graduation ceremony is Thursday night.
Furr told three defense attorneys present at Tuesday’s hearing — Lance Bell, Erskine Funderburg and Van Davis — that he set conditions of bonds for suspects accused of stealing merchandise from a store to not return to the store property while their case is pending, and to have no contact with the victim in the criminal case.
He said the victim in this case was the Pell City school board; thus, he ordered the students to remain away from school property while out on bond.
At the request of defense attorneys, Furr did amend his bond order to allow students to travel outside the state of Alabama.
Funderburg said students are out for summer vacation and some families have plans to travel out of state.
St. Clair County District Attorney Richard Minor told the court that the state did not have any objections to the removal of that stipulation of the bond order.
The judge amended his order Tuesday and students charged in the case may now travel outside the state.
Funderburg also asked the court to ensure that the school system provide transcripts requested by students who cannot return to school grounds. He said two students plan to attend college this summer.
“This is something we can comply with,” said Donald Sweeney, the board’s attorney.
Sweeney said arrangements were made so all the students arrested last week will graduate, and there was no reason for the students to return to school property.
The board attorney was present for Tuesday’s motion hearing, after defense attorneys subpoenaed high school student and teacher records.
In the motion filed by Funderburg and Bell, defense attorneys accused the school system of select prosecution.
Bell alleged that a former teacher was having sex with a student, but the incident was never reported to authorities.
Furr told attorneys he did not have jurisdiction to determine the merits of the state’s case and that is normally determined by the Circuit Courts. Furr said he could only rule on other matters of the state’s case at a preliminary hearing.
At Tuesday’s motion hearing, Funderburg also contended that Helene Bettinger, the high school principal, had no authority to sign the warrants for the seven students arrested last week.
Sweeney argued that Bettinger was an agent of the school system or CEO of the school and did have the authority to file warrants on behalf of the school board.
Furr set a preliminary hearing date for the case at 9 a.m. July 10.
“Our clients did wrong in performing what has traditionally been called a ‘senior prank,’ but justice is not served by attempting to brand these kids with a felony charge for the remainder of their life,” Funderburg and Bell said in a joint statement after Tuesday afternoon’s hearing. “Misdemeanors would be more appropriate and allow punishment and restitution for the victim of the alleged crime.
“Kids will be kids and should be punished when they cross the line, which our school has performed previously on numerous occasions without criminal charges. We feel that a rather minor prank has become a serious felony crime even where no one was injured and no property was destroyed. A criminal charge is a serious matter and our clients are responding appropriately.”
School officials said the cleanup at the high school cost the school board $10,360.
Contact David Atchison at firstname.lastname@example.org.