PHILADELPHIA - After Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi killed himself last year in response to someone posting a video online alleged to be of him in a tryst with a male student, prosecutors across the country have stepped up efforts to punish cyberbullies.
A cyberbully who forwarded explicit online photos of a teenage boy to the teen's school was sentenced to 45 days in federal prison Tuesday.
Matthew Bean, 20, of Bergenfield, N.J., was part of an "electronic mob" trying to drive the boy to suicide, federal prosecutors charged.
The victim staved off the humiliation and is now in college, authorities said.
U.S. District Judge Anita Brody nonetheless called the crime "extremely malicious," and hoped it would teach the victim and others "the stupidity of sexting."
The teen victim had posted the sexually explicit photos of himself when he was 12 or 13. They surfaced five years later on a dubious website that had caught Bean's interest, the FBI said.
Members of the site worked to identify the naked teen. Bean admitted he then forwarded the photos to teachers and administrators at the teen's Philadelphia-area school in January 2009, posing as a school parent concerned "about such beastly behavior."
The private school, which was not identified, called authorities who tracked down the sender.
"I hadn't really cared about myself for a long time," Bean told Brody before she sentenced him Tuesday. "I know that my embarrassment, the embarrassment I brought my family, is nothing compared to the pain I caused him."
The victim was not in court.
Prosecutors compare the case to the Rutgers University student who killed himself in September after his roommate allegedly used a webcam to spy on his sexual encounter and the Missouri woman charged in a MySpace hoax directed at a 13-year-old girl who committed suicide.
"You have to be blind to what's going on in this world not to know the effect of cyberbullying on present-day society," Brody said.
The Web group involved in Bean's case posted taunts about the victim, including "lets make this kid want to die," according to court papers.
Bean had been adopted from Guatemala as a baby into a high-achieving family his grandfather led the real-estate section of a major Philadelphia law firm and his father is a real-estate executive. He struggled in school, used drugs and fought with his parents, who sent him to several intensive, out-of-state programs, his father said.
"Although he has enormous resentment, we felt we were doing this to keep him safe," George Bean testified on his son's behalf.
The son had faced five years under the initial child pornography indictment, and 18 to 24 months under the negotiated stalking plea. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Levy did not push for that long of a term, but asked for at least some incarceration.
The judge agreed, while acknowledging concerns about the safety of the slightly built, young-looking defendant in prison. She did not object to an alternative placement as long as it was a custodial setting. Bean must then remain on federal probation for five years.
Defense lawyer Donald J. Goldberg called the crime a few fleeting clicks of the computer, albeit ones that would haunt Bean all his life.
In a cyberbullying case in Florida this week, two teenage girls were charged with
The victim was ridiculed by classmates after the pages became active, authorities said.
Bean, in a court-ordered psychiatric exam, explained why it was easier to bully someone online.
"The Internet seemed safer to me, not as dangerous as handing out the photo at someone's school where you might get punched," he said. "We weren't thinking. We were reacting, the beehive mind."
"Like a riot, people were just joining in and going with the flow," Bean said, according to court papers.