Lessons learned in Niles 5 casePublished 7:23pm Thursday, February 9, 2012
By AARON MUELLER and CRAIG HAUPERT
Niles Daily Star
The Niles teen sex video extortion scheme, dubbed the “Niles 5” case, shocked students, educators and the entire community.
Five Niles teenage boys landed in prison or jail for involvement in the plot. The teens shot a video of a 17-year-old girl having sex with one of them and then threatened to post the video to Facebook if she didn’t perform more sex acts with them.
While Niles certainly isn’t alone in scandals like these and in the prevalence of “sexting” among its youth, the drama of the case certainly provided a wake-up call to the community.
Niles High School senior Jared Langmeyer said he didn’t know the defendants too well but was shocked, like many of his classmates, when the news broke.
“I don’t think anyone would’ve thought that could happen,” Langmeyer said
Myles Busby, also a senior at NHS, said he was sad when he heard about the situation because he knew the defendants for a long time.
“I think it was just an unfortunate situation,” he said. “I know some of us thought they were punished a little too harshly, but it is a serious thing they did. It was just sad.”
Another senior Christopher Nelson said he knew most of the Niles 5 and said he didn’t understand the disproportionate sentencings. But he said the punishment was “understandable.”
“I just always thought if you are going to do something you have to be willing to pay the consequences,” he said.
Paying the price
And pay the consequences they did.
Martise Washington, who was found guilty of all seven charges against him by a jury last November, got the worst of it in a 20-year prison term. The other four took plea deals and got significantly less time.
Leon Murphy was sentenced to seven to 15 years in prison, while Parnell Martin and Trey Nichols received four-year and three-year terms respectively. Martell Miller got a year in jail.
Berrien County Prosecutor Art Cotter said he felt justice was served in the first four sentencings but said Miller was the beneficiary of a lenient plea deal due to the desire to protect the victim.
“Sometimes you don’t give a plea deal because someone deserves it but to spare the victim, sparing her from testifying again,” Cotter said.
Cotter said he hopes the community learns a lesson in basic morality from the case.
“We need more education and sensitizing to basic concepts of decency and privacy,” he said. “Too many people don’t see the gap between high school high jinks and criminal behavior.
If anything positive came out of the Niles 5 case, it is that area students are more aware of the consequences that can come from combining sex and social media.
Niles High School Principal Jim Knoll said the school is making an effort to educate students on issues like sexting and making good choices.
“They need to understand that they are responsible if someone sends you something or if you got something off the Internet you shouldn’t have,” Knoll said. “You have to be very aware of how you use your electronic devises and social media.”
School resource officer Kevin Kosten of the Niles City Police Department testified in the trial against Washington and has given seminars at NHS on sexting. He informs students what sexting is, what the laws are regarding sexting and the consequences of breaking those laws.
“We realized there is an issue that a lot of kids are unaware of these laws and some are surprising when people hear them,” Kosten said.
Students are getting the message.
“We’ve seen what can happen, so it is kind of a lesson learned from another’s experience,” Nelson said. “Kids know what can happen, so it is better to stay away from anything that can get you into trouble.”
Nelson said he’s noticed teachers and coaches making more of an effort to tell them what they should and shouldn’t be doing, while Busby said he’s talked to some students that said their parents took away their ability to do picture messaging.
Kosten said sexting is a nationwide issue, not limited to just Niles or Michigan. It is a growing problem and one that he believes occurs more often than we know.
“That is why we need to get the word out,” he said. “If we get the information out there and people know where they stand, we can save people from going through the court system, save their reputation, and save them a lot of trouble.”
Sexting a dangerous game
Sending naked photos is extremely unsafe, according to Cotter.
“You give tremendous leverage to somebody when you sext a naked photo of yourself,” he said. “And there’s the long-term effects in that those images never go away. It can come up in a job search.”
Cotter said youth just need to use common sense.
“If you walk completely naked down the hall, do they expect the school is not going to do anything to them or I’m not going to do anything to them? This (sexting) is dangerous behavior,” Cotter said.