Three found not guilty in hazing case
By TERRY VAU DELL – Staff Writer
Posted: 08/26/2009 12:18:46 AM PDT
OROVILLE â€” Three former Chico fraternity officers were acquitted Tuesday by a Butte County jury of misdemeanor criminal hazing.
It was one of the first cases to go to trial in California under an anti-hazing statute passed by the Legislature in the wake of an unrelated initiation rite that claimed the life of Chico State University fraternity pledge Matthew Carrington in 2005.
In the current case, three officers of the now-defunct Beta Theta Pi fraternity in Chico, Christopher David Bizot, 23, Matthew William Krupp and Michael Francis Murphy, both 22 at the time of the allegations, were accused of subjecting pledges to strenuous calisthenics and immersion into an icy bath tub as part of an initiation rite in April 2007.
The only two pledges called by the prosecution during the trial, both testified they never felt their health was in any danger during the fraternity rituals.
It took the Butte County Superior Court jury of nine women and three men slightly less than three hours Tuesday to acquit the trio of the misdemeanor hazing charge, which could have carried up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Bizot was also found not guilty of a separate charge of obstructing or delaying Chico State University police officers in their investigation.
Jury foreman Linda Klein of Oroville said the jury basically agreed with the defense that the fraternity activities “were not likely to cause serious bodily injury” â€” the legal standard for conviction under
the new criminal hazing law.
One male juror went as far as to tell lawyers in the case that he felt the trial was “a waste of taxpayers’ money.”
Deputy district attorney Michael Sanderson said afterwards he felt the two years it took to bring the case to trial affected the memories of the two fraternity witnesses, whom he asserted had “minimized” their testimony concerning the initiation rites.
In his closing remarks to the jury, Bizot’s lawyer, Kevin Sears, said while he understood the reason for passing the criminal hazing statute, “this was a very poor case to test this new law.”
At one point last year, some 13 Beta Theta Pi pledges had agreed to accept $1 apiece from each of the three fraternity officers as part of a “civil compromise” in return for the criminal charges being dropped.
As part of the deal, the pledges had signed declarations stating that they never felt endangered by the forced calisthenics or ice baths, euphemistically called “Beta Hot Tubs.”
But a local judge refused to honor the agreement, ruling such a civil settlement was an improper attempt to “circumvent” Matt’s Law, the criminal hazing statute passed by the Legislature in memory of Carrington, who had died after being forced to drink excessive amounts of water during an initiation ritual for another Chico fraternity in 2005.
No mention of the proposed civil agreement or the pledge’s affidavits were allowed during Tuesday’s jury trial.
Two former Beta Theta Pi pledges, Anthony Maggiore and Gregory Hollingshead, testified under a government subpoena that they were made to do pushups, sit-ups and the “army crawl” to gain admittance to the fraternity.
The pair also said pledges were made to stand in a tub of cold water while holding a large block of ice in their hands and to lower themselves down whenever their pledge partner incorrectly answered a question concerning fraternity history.
But under questioning by defense lawyers, Sears, Dane Cameron and Michael Erpino, the pair said that as standout high school athletes, they knew the Chico fraternity had a reputation for athletic prowess and had pledged it for that reason.
At no time did they say they were ever injured or felt their health was endangered during the initiation rites.
Hollingshead recalled “shivering” in the frigid tub, but he and the other pledges had been immediately taken to a heated room and given blankets and towels to warm up afterwards, he told the jury.
Corinne Beck, the campus police detective who investigated the case, testified that when initially questioned, the fraternity’s then-president Bizot, denied pledges were required to do anything more than clean up the Chico fraternity house and research fraternity lore.
She said when confronted later with some of the pledges’ statements, Bizot admitted to taking part in the initiation rituals.
According to the jury foreman, jurors did not believe Bizot’s conduct delayed or obstructed the hazing investigation.
Bizot, who like Murphy, has since graduated from Chico State, declined to comment following Tuesday’s jury acquittals, as did Krupp, who recently earned an associate’s degree from Butte College.
“The jury got it right in this case,” said Murphy’s lawyer, Erpino. “They looked at the evidence and the code section and looked at what was needed to be proved, and it wasn’t proved.”