Kenny Suttner and Harley Kaitlynn Branham
By Ron Lee
(US~Observer) Glasgow, Missouri – After having written several suicide notes, 17-year-old Kenny Suttner, while sitting alone on a log outside of his Glasgow home, put a gun to his own head and shot himself.
It is a tragedy that repeats itself daily across America, with suicide being the 10th leading cause of death.
What makes this instance stand out is not the hard, sad life the perpetrator/victim is reported to have endured because of bullying, but rather the first-of-its-kind stance the state is taking on the case.
Howard County Special Prosecutor April Wilson filed a class D felony charge of involuntary manslaughter against Suttner’s former manager at his job with Dairy Queen, 21-year-old Harley Kaitlynn Branham, on February 1st of this year.
According to the Memphis Democrat:
Wilson indicated the charges stem from a verdict by a coroner’s jury, which was convened by Howard County Coroner Frank Flaspohler. The six-member jury held an inquest into the events leading to Suttner’s suicide, ultimately issuing a verdict that the suicide was in fact felony, involuntary manslaughter due to harassment that “occurred both at Dairy Queen and at school.”
The jury finding went on to site Branham as the principal cause of Sutter’s death, both also indicated Dairy Queen was negligent in training of employees to avoid harassment. The jury also found Glasgow High School, where Sutter was a junior, was negligent in preventing bullying.
Wilson and Flaspohler conducted the inquest, which is allowable under Missouri law but is not commonly utilized. The jury finding is not a verdict, but simply established probable cause which can be the basis for a prosecuting attorney to file charges.
The charges were brought by Wilson following more than six and a half hours of testimony by more than 20 witnesses.
There are, however, reports by other media outlets that depict Suttner as having been bullied by many, as this report from Inside Edition suggests:
Fellow students tearfully testified [at the inquest] that the senior was continually bullied and taunted on campus by kids who made fun of the way he looked, talked and walked.
Best friend Lexie Graves testified Branham was ridiculed for “basically everything about him,” including a speech impediment and his weight. She said he reported the abuse once, but nothing was done.
While it is a normal reaction for people to want others to be accountable for their loved one’s bad choices, especially when those choices result in them taking their own life, or the life of others, it is a reaction based on a false premise that unfortunately this special prosecutor has grabbed onto in order to make someone criminally “pay” for this young man’s decision.
With this being the first case of its kind, a conviction could mean the amount of manslaughter cases could skyrocket across the country as overzealous prosecutors jump on the precedent and begin to hold people accountable for all types of “causal” behavior. For instance, you could be prosecuted for punishing your child’s bad behavior, if it resulted in their decision to kill themselves. Potentially, you could also be prosecuted if you told-off a fellow worker and they came back and shot-up your work place, killing others and themselves. God forbid you cut somebody off in traffic and they mentally lose it and purposely crash their car through the nearest Starbucks building!
I don’t say this to trivialize Suttner’s death. I say it to point out the ridiculousness of holding people accountable for others’ actions.
In my opinion, this is just another way for out of control prosecutors to criminalize everyone.
While there is no doubt that Suttner should not have faced bullying, killing himself is a result of a choice he made. If we start holding others responsible for the chosen actions of those who “pull the trigger” then our court system will be overrun and freedom will be minimized to being practiced inside of a box, because our mere existence could be someone else’s “trigger”.
As for Harley Kaitlynn Branham, she should at most face a civil suit by Suttner’s family. Regarding her criminal charges, if I were an attorney I would suggest she file a civil suit against April Wilson, Frank Flaspohler and Howard County for wrongful prosecution, because no panel can determine a person’s true motive for killing themselves, even if notes were left.
In any event, everything about this case can be summed up with three words — what a tragedy.