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Florida Hazing Case Ends in Mistrial

Jurors found `serious bodily injury' unclear. The frat members had beaten a pledge.

October 10, 2006|From the Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A judge declared a mistrial Monday in the hazing trial of five Florida A&M University fraternity members after the jury said it was perplexed by an undefined legal term and unable to reach a verdict.

The trial would have been the first to test a new state law that makes hazing a felony if it results in death or "serious bodily injury," but the law does not define the latter term.

Jurors deliberated for more than three hours, but the mistrial was declared about 20 minutes after they sent a note to Circuit Judge Kathleen Dekker asking for a more substantial definition of serious bodily injury. The jurors also asked how to distinguish between serious and moderate injury. She told the jury there was no further legal instruction.

"That is a very serious legal term and it has been defined in other statutes and yet for whatever reason it's not defined in this one," said defense lawyer Chuck Hobbs.

Dekker had told the six-member jury it means injury that is neither slight nor moderate.

Four Kappa Alpha Psi brothers were charged with using canes, boxing gloves and bare fists to beat aspiring fraternity member Marcus Jones, 20. The Decatur, Ga. native said he was beaten so severely over a four-night initiation that he suffered a broken eardrum and needed surgery on his buttocks.

The fifth defendant was accused of assisting in the alleged hazing by encouraging Jones and other would-be fraternity members to bear up under the beatings and revived them with water when they passed out.

The defendants accused of striking Jones are Michael Morton, 23, of Fort Lauderdale; Brian Bowman, 23, of Oakland, Calif.; Cory Gray, 22, of Montgomery, Ala., and Marcus Hughes, 21, of Fort Lauderdale. Jason Harris, 25, of Jacksonville, was accused of assisting them.

"This was no accident. This was no joke. This was not playtime at the frat house," Assistant State Atty. Frank Allman said in his closing argument. "This was intentional. This was dangerous."

Florida's 2005 hazing law makes it a third-degree felony, with penalties ranging from probation to five years in prison. The defendants were charged only with the felony, so the jury could not convict them of a misdemeanor hazing charge.

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