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Oklahoma prosecutors will not press charges in Nex Benedict case

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler, pictured in 2018, says his office is not pursuing charges in the Nex Benedict case.
Sue Ogrocki
/
AP
Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler, pictured in 2018, says his office is not pursuing charges in the Nex Benedict case.

Updated March 22, 2024 at 10:07 AM ET

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide or is in crisis, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

Prosecutors in Oklahoma say they will not pursue charges in the death of Nex Benedict.

Benedict was a 16-year-old nonbinary student whose death last month was ruled a suicide. They had been injured in a fight with high school classmates the day before.

Benedict, who used both he/him and they/them pronouns, had been targeted by bullies in the months leading up to their death because of their gender identity, according to their family.

Bullying someone to attempt or complete suicide is a felony in Oklahoma, reported member station KOSU. But Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler says the fight was not one-sided and there's not enough evidence to press charges.

"Based upon the investigation of the Owasso Police Department, I am in the agreement with their assessment that the filing of juvenile charges is not warranted," Kunzweiler said in a press release Thursday. "From all the evidence gathered, this fight was an instance of mutual combat. I do not have a reasonable belief that the State of Oklahoma could sustain its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt if charges were presented for prosecution."

Attorneys for Benedict's family have said injuries Benedict sustained in the fight were significant even if their death was ruled a suicide, KOSU reports.

Sarah Kate Ellis, president of the LGBTQ+ media advocacy group GLAAD, told KOSU on Thursday that Kunzweiler, Owasso police, the school district and the medical examiner's office "have failed Nex Benedict and failed us all."

The school district said it has provided counselors for students and said that, "Any notion that the district has ignored disciplinary action toward those involved is simply untrue." It called Benedict's death devastating. An after hours call to the district was not immediately returned.

While in the hospital for the injuries they sustained during the fight, according to body cam footage, Benedict told police that they poured water on a group of girls in the high school bathroom after they picked on them for how they laughed. The group then started beating Benedict to the ground until they "blacked out," they said.

The next day, Benedict was pronounced dead. The medical examiner's office found that they had died after taking a lethal mix of prescription and over-the-counter medication. The full autopsy report has not yet been publicly released.

Owasso police found brief notes written by Benedict that "appeared to be related to the suicide" and are an important part of their investigation, the district attorney said. The notes, which don't make mention of the fight or difficulties at school, Kunweiler said, are "a personal matter" for Benedict's family.

Benedict's case has sparked demonstrations by LGBTQ+ advocates and calls for bullying law reforms.

Suicide rates among transgender youth are disproportionately high compared to cisgender youth, as NPR previously reported. Trans youth report that the wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the country is a major contributor to negative impacts on their mental health.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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