Senate committee hears testimony on charging bullies with manslaughter if actions result in victim’s suicide

JEFFERSON CITY, MO - Missouri lawmakers hear testimony Monday on a bill that would allow bullies to be charged with manslaughter if their actions result in a victim's suicide.

The bill is named Kenny's Law, in honor of a teenager from mid-Missouri who took his own life in December 2016.

Dozens of friends and family members of Kenneth Suttner made their way from Howard County just northwest of Columbia to the capitol today as a Senate committee held a public hearing on the bill.

During the hearing, a prosecutor explained why she couldn't pursue a charge of involuntary manslaughter against a woman accused of playing a role in Suttner's death.

Before Kenneth Suttner committed suicide, bullies targeted him throughout his 17-year life making fun of him for being overweight and his speech impediment.

The Howard County Coroner said, "He was the poster child of turning the other cheek. He was bullied constantly through school and took it until he got to the workplace where it was just too much.”

After a coroner's inquest into Suttner's death last year, a jury decided Harley Branham, Sutter’s boss at the Dairy Queen he worked at was the primary actor in his death.

Branham threw burgers at Suttner and make him get down and clean the floor on his stomach.

“We did about a six-and-a-half-hour hearing at the coroner`s inquest.  About three hours was in regards to the bullying that happened in the school and the other three hours in the workplace. We heard direct testimony from individuals who witnessed the harassment that Kenny endured."

April Wilson was appointed to serve as the special prosecutor.

She announced this month she would not pursue second-degree manslaughter charges against Branham because she doesn't believe she can under current law.

That's why she came to the capitol to testify in favor of Senate Bill 791, a proposal that would allow prosecutors to charge someone with second-degree involuntary manslaughter if they "knowingly incite any person to commit suicide."

“You always hope that in your career that you do something that actually makes a difference or matters. So, I’m humbled and grateful that the discussion has begun.”

It's a discussion that also holds meaning for the bill's sponsor.

“My mother committed suicide and I still don`t know why to this day.  But I do know that we have a very serious problem with bullying and suicide.”

Branham still faces charges of third-degree assault and two counts of harassment in the death of Suttner.

The Senate committee that heard the bill today will soon have a chance to vote it out and send it to the floor.