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Beta Blocker: Matt’s law faces challenge in court

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Defense still critical of revised hazing complaint
By TERRY VAU DELL – Staff Writer
Chico Enterprise-Record

Article Launched:09/20/2007 12:09:57 AM PDT
OROVILLE — The attorneys for three banned Beta Theta Pi fraternity leaders accused of hazing about a dozen pledges last spring assert that an amended criminal complaint filed in the case Wednesday is still legally deficient.

A judge had previously upheld a defense motion called a “demur,” giving the prosecution 10 days to reword the charging document to clarify the allegations against the trio.

The case will be back in court Oct. 29 when the lawyers for the accused fraternity members say they will again try to get the charges thrown out on grounds they are being prevented from adequately defending their clients at trial.

The prosecutor maintains the rewording of the criminal complaint not only complies with the judge’s order, but goes farther by actually specifying individual alleged acts of hazing committed by the fraternity leaders.

The amended complaint filed Wednesday adds language directly from Matt’s Law, a 2007 statute which for the first time criminalizes hazing activities on California school campuses or in fraternal organizations.

The new law was enacted by the state Legislature this summer in memory of Matthew Carrington, a 21-year-old Chico State University pledge who died as a result of being forced to drink excessive amounts of water in a chilled basement during an initiation ceremony to another Chico fraternity in 2005.

The current hazing case is the first to be prosecuted in California under Matt’s Law. If convicted of the misdemeanor charges the three Chico fraternity officials could face up to one year in jail and $5,000 in fines.

The prosecution alleges the former Beta Theta Pi president David Bizot, 23, vice president, Michael Francis Murphy, 22, and ritualist, Matthew William Krupp, 23, “engaged in a form of initiation and pre-initiation into a student organization and student body at California State University, Chico, in a manner likely to cause serious bodily injury … by means of excessive forced strenuous physical activity and exposure to unhealthful ice baths.”

District Attorney Mike Ramsey had earlier told reporters about a dozen pledges were forced to crawl through mud, engage in rigorous calisthenics and also stand in a bath tub filled with ice water while being grilled about fraternity lore.

William Mayo, Bizot’s attorney, argues that while an improvement over the first “ambiguous” criminal complaint, he says he is unclear what forced strenuous physical activity the prosecutor is referring to.

Moreover, the defense contends the charging document must identify one or more victims so the defense can adequately investigate and prepare the case for trial.

But deputy district attorney Michael Sanderson contends he need only prove to a judge or jury that the alleged hazing took place, regardless of whether any of those involved felt themselves to be victims.

“We have witnesses that we believe will testify to the impact these activities had on them; it doesn’t necessarily make them victims,” said the prosecutor outside of court.

Sanderson points out, for example, that rarely are victims named in drunken driving cases either.

But Mayo counters in most DUI cases, the arresting officer witnesses the crime and can testify about it later in court.

But in the Chico hazing case, campus police are relying on information that was given to them second-hand by those involved in the fraternity initiation.

“Hazing is not a victimless crime. We have a right to confront our accusers,” the defense attorney asserts.

When she gave the district attorney the option of rewording the criminal complaint or face possible dismissal of the case two weeks ago, newly-appointed Butte County Superior Court Judge Tamara Mosbarger said she agreed with the prosecution that the state of California could be listed as the sole hazing victim.

But the lawyers for the accused fraternity members, say now that specific hazing allegations have been lodged against their clients, they must revisit the victimization question.

“Do we have to investigate everybody who was there (at the fraternity initiation) and spend tens of thousands of dollars, only to find out only one guy is going to show up at trial?” asks Mayo.

“Who does it hurt to simply say Joe Blow was the person who was subjected to these ice baths?” the defense lawyer added.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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