By Michael D. Clark and Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer
MASON - A last-minute plea by two high school seniors and their parents was successful Friday evening, allowing the two to join classmates today in Mason's graduation ceremonies
The two were among 11 students banned from graduation for their involvement in a senior prank that left a peacock and a rabbit dead after some birds and small animals were stolen and released in the school on Tuesday. The other nine students will not take part in the ceremonies.
One peacock died after it was found in a car in the school parking lot and a rabbit - a 4-H project with a nest of babies - was found dead after the theft at the Branham family's hobby farm on Snidercrest Drive.
Meanwhile, three more seniors, all 18, were charged Friday with involvement, bringing the arrest total to five.
John Schatzel is the only student to be charged with a felony. He faces a charge of breaking and entering and a charge of misdemeanor theft. He was arrested and taken to the Warren County Jail.
"He is the only one that they can definitely place inside the barn," said Maj. Gary Miller of the Warren County Sheriff's Office.
Jennifer Ball was cited to court on charges of complicity to theft and criminal trespassing. She allegedly took other students to the Branhams' barn after a party at her house. Sheriff's officials said the theft plan apparently was hatched at the teen party, and that teens were consuming alcohol at the time.
Maria Butler was charged with receiving stolen property for allegedly driving her boyfriend, who had a stolen rabbit, to school.
All are expected to appear for arraignment Tuesday in Mason Municipal Court.
The latest charges came a day after senior football running back Vincent Eric Dean, 18, and Chad Scheben, 19, were charged with misdemeanor theft and animal cruelty.
Miller said that investigators located a second farm where chickens were stolen, and more charges could follow when that investigation is complete.
By unanimous vote the Mason Board of Education agreed to allow Butler to graduate with her classmates during ceremonies today at the Cintas Center on the Xavier University campus. However, she will have to perform 40 hours of community service for her involvement in the prank. Her participation was deemed by board members to be relatively minor.
Another senior, who has not been charged, also received unanimous approval by the school board to graduate with his classmates with no community service required.
Craig Butler, father of Marie, described the school board as being "very fair and open-minded" in its decision, which came after an executive session of nearly four hours.
"One of the decisions the school board had to address was each student's level of involvement," said Mason Superintendent Kevin Bright.
The preliminary discipline handed down by administrators at Mason High School this week mirrors the punishment levied two years ago when a group of graduating seniors, including Superintendent Bright's son, drove tractors to school after consuming alcohol. They were wearing necklaces made of beer tabs and were not allowed to join in graduation ceremonies.
But Bright said he understood and backed the school board's decision to allow two of the 11 seniors originally banned from graduation ceremonies to participate.
"I agree totally with the board's decisions," he said.
The two students were the only ones in the group of 11 to appeal the school administrator's decision earlier this week to ban them from graduation ceremonies.
Mason spokeswoman Shelly Benesh Hausman said school and police investigations determined that the students in some way participated in Tuesday's prank.
"It's all surrounding the event of bringing the animals to school or being involved in it," Hausman said of the ban from graduation.
The students who were not found to have directly participated in the theft were barred from the ceremony because they were suspected of helping transport the animals to school, physically taking them into the building or some other involvement, she said. All will receive their diplomas.
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