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Trial begins in fatal Delaware school bathroom fight

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — The trial of three girls charged in a fatal school bathroom fight in Delaware began Monday with a prosecutor playing a cellphone video of the altercation.

The video shows Amy Joyner-Francis, 16, struggling to fight back and escape as she is repeatedly hit and kicked in the head while her assailant holds on to her hair.

“Those 48 seconds are the reason why we are here today,” deputy attorney general Phillip Casale told Family Court Judge Robert Coonin, who is presiding over a non-jury trial.

“Amy was wholly unprepared for the violent onslaught that we just saw,” Casale said.

Coonin ruled last year that a 17-year-old girl facing the most serious charge, criminally negligent homicide, would be tried as a juvenile. Had she been convicted as an adult, the girl would have faced up to eight years in prison. If adjudicated delinquent as a juvenile, she would be subject to supervision until age 19.

The two other girls are charged with conspiracy for allegedly helping plan the fight.

The Associated Press is not naming the girls because they are juveniles.

An autopsy found that Joyner-Francis, who had a heart condition, died of sudden cardiac death, aggravated by the physical and emotional stress of the attack.

Defense attorney John Deckers, representing the girl charged in the homicide, told the judge that the case raises questions about the standard to which a teenager with a developing, immature brain should be held in determining whether she acted negligently.

“This case is very much about the thought process of teenagers,” he said, adding that his client made “the most regrettable decision of her young life” in choosing to fight.

“This was not a vicious and brutal and intentional act that is justifiably punished as a homicide,” Deckers added, saying no one could have foreseen “in a million years” that the fight last April at Wilmington’s Howard High School of Technology would result in death.

Deckers said Joyner-Francis suffered from Eisenmenger syndrome, an extremely rare condition for someone of her age in which a heart defect combines with severe pulmonary hypertension.

But Casale, the prosecutor, said Joyner-Francis would not have died had she not been attacked.

“Any pre-existing condition is of no consequence,” he asserted.

Wilmington police Detective Thomas Curley, one of several witnesses called Monday, testified at a pretrial hearing last year that in an online group chat the day before the attack, Joyner-Francis offered advice to one of her friends about a problem involving a boy, telling her friend to “just be careful.” Curley said the defendants were later brought into the chat, and that the alleged attacker thought Joyner-Francis — who warned that someone might “switch up,” or betray another person — was talking about her.

A Snapchat posting by one of the defendants that same day shows Joyner-Francis talking to her alleged assailant in the bathroom, purportedly to try to defuse the situation. The posting notes that the girl later charged with homicide was “bouta fight her,” followed by several emojis indicating that a person was laughing so hard she was crying.

Michael Boothe, a hall monitor, testified that he heard shouting in the bathroom the day before the fight and went to investigate. He said the girl accused of attacking Joyner-Francis the next day refused to tell him what was going on and walked away.

Boothe said Joyner-Francis, who left the bathroom a few minutes later, repeatedly assured him that everything was OK, but nevertheless appeared sad.

“I didn’t feel good about it, so I went to tell my supervisor,” he said.

The next day, according to witnesses, Joyner-Francis was followed into the bathroom by the three girls, and about two dozen onlookers, including friends of Joyner-Francis.

Casale said that after the fight, the three defendants left together, laughing and smiling.

“Amy on the other hand, never got off the bathroom floor,” he said.

Kayla Rouse, a fellow student who witnessed the fight, said Joyner-Francis told her afterward that the other girls had “snuck” her, catching her off guard.

“She didn’t look great,” Rouse testified. “She was just breathing really heavy.”

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