Teen's crime: Is bullying a defense?

April 23, 2008 7:26:42 AM PDT
Brent Clark is fighting for his future, after what he said was a rash act in reaction to incessant bullying he suffered at his middle school. The 15-year-old from Mesa, Ariz., faces charges of terrorism, kidnapping and aggravated assault after, by his own admission, he followed a female classmate home from school March 22, 2007, and held her hostage at knife point.

That was not the way it was supposed to happen. At the time, the then-14-year-old Powell Junior High School student was in seventh grade and claimed he was being bullied by one of his classmates.

"It was torment. It basically just made me feel like ? made me feel very angry," said Clark, who had been suspended for disciplinary problems before the incident last year.

The teen said his classmate taunted him endlessly at school. It was so bad, he said, that he reported it to a teacher, though school officials said they have no record of such a report.

Finally, after nine months of bullying, the self-described "good" kid and top-ranked Boy Scout said he simply snapped. He plotted his revenge.

"I grabbed a knife and I was gonna take him. I was gonna stab him," Clark said.

But on that spring day, he was unable to find the student he wanted to harm and he said his pent-up anger boiled over. So instead, he followed a 14-year-old girl from his Spanish class to an apartment complex, where he pulled her behind a wall and held a four-inch switchblade to her throat, according to police.

He told the girl that if she didn't do what he said, he'd kill her, police said.

Clark does not dispute the police account. "I grabbed her, put a knife to her throat. And upon that, a couple seconds, or maybe even a minute later, I let her go and ran home," Clark said.

But Clark said he "probably" didn't mean to hurt the teen. "I wasn't thinking," he said.

Whether he meant to hurt her or not, the girl told police and school officials what happened. The next day, his parents were notified and they found him at home, sitting on the couch in front of the television set wearing camouflage pants and military boots, with a backpack at his feet.

"He was empty. [There was] nothing in his eyes that we recognized and that was a little frightening," Clark's mother, Denette Reid, said.

The backpack was stuffed with a loaded handgun, three knives, two rolls of duct tape, a black ski mask and a rope.

Clark's parents, who hoped to help their son, took the boy to the police, where he was questioned.

According to the police report, Clark told them "he was going to take his class hostage. ? Tie up the students and wait for police. ? Then, come out shooting so the police would just shoot him and end it."

Police arrested Clark 21 days after his 14th birthday. He spent eight months in a juvenile detention center, where he said he was repeatedly harassed and beaten.

He is currently out on bail, but remains under house arrest. He is forbidden from talking to the girl he victimized and faces adult charges, including the terrorism count, which could carry a penalty of 25 years to life in prison.

Clark's family believes the potential punishment may be too harsh.

"We're not saying that he should walk away from the situation," Reid said. "But there are other things that need to be taken care of as well. His mental state ? you know ? all the things he's worked for all of his life. Is it really going to do society any good to throw those things out the window and turn him into a criminal? Because that's what prison's going to do to him."

Clark's attorney said the bag of weapons, which led to the terrorism charge, shouldn't be admissible.

"Honestly, I think nothing that occurred at the house should have been charged at all. You can collect it as evidence and you can mention in to the court, perhaps for sentencing, but it's not a crime," lawyer David Michael Cantor said.

Clark's parents want their son to receive counseling and believe if he is sentenced to an adult prison he'll never be able to finish high school or attain his dream of becoming a Marine.

"He's a smart kid, bright kid. He likes what he's doing. He does good in school. He had a plan," said a tearful and visibly upset Jeff Clark, Brent's father.

"I hope that he has a chance," Reid said. "He's not the person he's been made out to be."

Clark has expressed remorse for his actions, and said that if he could, he would tell his victim: "I'm sorry for everything I've put you through."

"If I could turn back the clock, I would, because I hurt someone who didn't need to be [hurt] and she was innocent," he said. "She didn't deserve any of it."