Two Low Country teenagers have entered guilty pleas for killing one of their schoolmates. The attack was part of an initiation two years ago at HE McCracken Middle School in Bluffton. Francisco Belman collapsed after being punched in the chest as part of an initiation into a gang called the Latin Mafia.
The court was preparing for a long, drawn-out trial, but less than a minute into this morning's proceedings, the second defendant changed his plea. After both entered guilty pleas to involuntary manslaughter, the state has dropped second degree lynching charges against them. The maximum sentence either can get is juvenile detention until age 21.
"I would like to see Mr. and Mrs. Belman walk away from this experience feeling that justice has been done and whatever the judge, whatever the court, decides is an appropriate sentence I'll be satisfied with," said solicitor Neil Riley.
The two boys faced the judge together, showing no emotion as he decided to have them evaluated over the next month before making his sentencing decision. After today's trial, Francisco's parents said they're glad things are over quickly, so they don't have to relive every little detail of their son's death.
"This trial, had it gone the distance, would have been an added ordeal for them," said Riley. "I'm glad that both defendants decided to plead guilty."
Monday's initial plea deal came from a boy who never actually hit Francisco, but the state sees his actions as being just as bad as the other boy's. "He was there, he intended to administer his six punches, and would have done so had the victim not collapsed," said Riley.
We talked with the Belman family outside the courthouse. They said they didn't want to go on camera, but they hope that at the very least this trial will prevent other kids from trying any initiation stunts like this.