Score one for the Intertubes. It looks like public attention and online outrage has nudged the case in a more sensible direction:
Based on his experience in similar cases, Berry said it's unlikely the boys, if convicted, would be sentenced for the maximum jail time for each of the counts. "That type of sentence has never been imposed in my county or in any county that I know of for these types of offenses," he said.
Berry said he, too, was inundated with calls and e-mails from readers who complained that charging the boys with 10 counts of sex abuse and harassment was an overreaction, as their parents maintain. Lawyers for the boys say each count could bring a year in confinement and mandatory registration as sex offenders.
Berry said a judge could lift the registration requirement after it was imposed. "These youths can petition the court relatively quickly for relief from that," he said.
The boys' families said they were furious at what appeared to be backpedaling on Berry's part.
"It makes us angry that they can overcharge . . . and make us think this could happen," said Tracie Mashburn, Cory's mother. "Why would they do that and threaten us with that if they're not going to do it?"
"He's just doing damage control," added Joe Cornelison, Ryan's father. "I want to ask Brad Berry, what kind of due process is this?"
Berry's explanation also doesn't explain why he initially charged the boys with felony sex abuse. And if he doesn't think the maximum sentence for these particular charges is appropriate, he shouldn't be bringing them.
The good news is, the worldwide attention to the case over the last two days may help the families' financial burden in fighting the charges.
Negra and Lawrence said the Mashburn and Cornelison families received so many offers of financial assistance that they moved Monday to set up a fund to cover legal expenses. Readers from as far away as Germany also contacted The Oregonian to comment or ask how they could contribute.
Tony Wood, a photographer in Pennsylvania, e-mailed the newspaper Monday after he read the story online. Wood said he planned to send a check to the fund.
"I would actually send a check to these parents because I am totally blown away by this. It's like something out of colonial times or the crusades," he said. "There are real issues out there, and this is not one of them."
"I am very thankful. I can't believe it," said Joe Cornelison, who is a press operator at the McMinnville newspaper. "It's been really hard. I'm behind on bills and have a hard time sleeping because I'm worried about my son, and his life has really been changed by this."
"I've just been crying all morning because of the way people are supporting us," said Tracie Mashburn.
Some people objected to my original headline that this kind of horseplay is just part of growing up. Fair enough, though I seem to remember quite a bit of butt-slapping and bra-strap snapping in middle school (not to mention adolescent boys' habit of continually kicking, punching, and flicking one another in the nuts). These incidents resulted in scoldings, detention, or, in the worst cases, suspensions. Never incarceration.
Bringing criminal charges was a gross overreaction, and typical of our tendency to turn to the criminal justice system to solve our problems. That the judge "could" set aside the sex offender registry requirement is beside the point. Either this DA thinks these boys should be forced to register as sex offenders for life, or he doesn't. If he does, he should say as much. If he doesn't, he should never have brought the charges. He shouldn't be permitted to pass the buck to the judge.
That the he initially brought felony charges is in itself reason to vote him out of office.