TAMPA — The allegations of locker-room abuse were shocking and the headlines splashy.
In May 2009, authorities said four Walker Middle School students subjected a flag football teammate to multiple instances of sexual battery by broom handle and hockey stick.
The names and mug shots of Diemante Roberts, Raymond Price-Murray, Lee Myers and Randall Moye — all minors — became widely associated with the stigma of those allegations, and the school changed its supervision policy as a result.
But Wednesday, with Myers and Moye already facing reduced felony battery charges, prosecutors agreed to also drop sexual battery charges against the remaining two defendants and allow them to plead guilty to the lesser crime.
Unless the teens violate the agreements, not one of them will spend a day in jail.
The outcome marked a significant feat for defense attorneys. But there was no air of victory or proclamations of innocence as Hillsborough Circuit Judge Emmett Lamar Battles sentenced Roberts, 16, and Price-Murray, 15, to five years each of adult probation.
"In this case, the bullying was horrific," Battles said. "How terrible what that victim suffered. What cruelty, what crimes. It shocked the conscience, it shocked the community."
Their punishment, the judge said, did not diminish what happened.
"Today," he said, "you're being held to account."
Assistant State Attorney Kimberly Hindman's mood was equally somber.
While conceding imperfections with the state's case, she painted a dark scene of the terror the 13-year-old victim endured over two months in the unsupervised locker room.
He was an alternate on the flag football team. The other four boys were talented players, who "were often very disgusted with his lack of athletic skill," Hindman said.
She said they picked on him daily, calling him nasty names and making fun of his weight.
Then, "the cruelty crossed the line and became criminal," she said.
On May 6, 2009, and again in a deposition he gave this week, the victim said Roberts and Price-Murray used a hockey stick and broomstick to assault him while Moye and Myers held him down.
But after revealing what had happened, nearly a month passed before he underwent medical examinations. Hindman said the teen, who at one point told his mother he had blood in his stool, was reluctant to visit a doctor.
Crime lab tests found the victim's DNA on a hockey stick, but recovered nothing from the stick that linked it to the suspects.
Then came the complicated task of sorting through witness statements.
Hindman said nine flag football players would have testified against Price-Murray and Roberts, who were scheduled to stand trial this month. Each of them put the defendants at the scene, she said. But none could prove penetration.
The victim admitted he had a limited field of vision during the attacks because he was thrown down on his stomach, Hindman said.
Prosecutors previously allowed Myers, 15, to enter into a pretrial intervention program. Moye, 15, was promised juvenile sanctions.
Ultimately, the state decided plea offers for Price-Murray and Roberts were in the best interest of everyone involved.
The "greatest wish" of the victim's parents, Hindman said, was to avoid putting their son through a trial.
They did not attend the hearing Wednesday.
Though Price-Murray and Roberts received the most severe penalties in the case, Hindman said they don't deserve to be tagged as sexual offenders.
"The facts as they present themselves are a sexual battery," she said. But "there was no evidence, even from the victim, that this was a sexually motivated offense."
Hindman said the teens' age and lack of prior criminal records were also taken into account.
As part of their sentence, they must each perform 100 community service hours, 50 of which will include speaking to their peers about the adverse effects of hazing and bullying. Adjudication was withheld. But if they mess up on probation, they each face up to five years in prison.
Price-Murray's attorney said his client accepts responsibility for his part in the bullying.
"I know that he'll learn his lesson and that he has learned his lesson," lawyer Bryant Camareno said.
School district spokesman Stephen Hegarty, too, hopes something positive has resulted from the "alarming" case.
Walker Middle students are no longer allowed inside locker rooms without a coach or administrator present.
"At the very least, this case put a spotlight on bullying," Hegarty said. "I think that this really heightened awareness of those issues having to do with bullying and assuring that everyone is supervised."
Colleen Jenkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3337.