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Does LSU stiff sentence have an impact on hazing reduction? Walter Kimbrough ponders an answer; Obstruction charge dropped

Article by the Advocate’s Joe Gyan, Jr.

Excerpt:

A former LSU student and ex-Phi Delta Theta member serving prison time for the 2017 hazing death of Max Gruver waived his right to appeal his negligent homicide conviction Tuesday, ending his more than two-year legal fight.

But some academics and legal experts say it’s unlikely Matthew Naquin’s punishment will deter hazing on college campuses.

Hank Nuwer, a professor at Franklin College in Indiana who tracks hazing deaths and has written several books on the topic, said at least one hazing death has occurred each year from 1959 to 2019.

“I’m hoping this is the first year in 61 years that we don’t have a hazing death, but I wouldn’t bet on it,” he said. “This is a really terrible string.”

Naquin, 21, of Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, was found guilty in July, sentenced to 2½ years in prison in November, and began serving his sentence Jan. 17. In exchange for waiving his right to appeal the verdict, prosecutors dropped an obstruction of justice charge against him Tuesday.

The obstruction charge, which carried up to five years in prison, accused Naquin of deleting hundreds of files from his phone during the criminal investigation into Gruver’s death and after a search warrant had been issued for the phone.

Gruver, of Roswell, Georgia, died of alcohol poisoning and aspiration in what authorities described as a hazing ritual — dubbed “Bible study” — at the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house. Gruver and other Phi Delta Theta pledges were told to chug 190-proof liquor the night of Sept. 13 if they gave wrong answers to questions about the fraternity or could not recite the Greek alphabet.

Naquin was one of four former LSU students and ex-Phi Delta Theta members indicted on charges stemming from Gruver’s death. He faced the most serious charges.

Ryan Isto, Sean-Paul Gott and Patrick Forde were charged with misdemeanor hazing. Isto and Gott pleaded no contest in 2018 and were sentenced to 30 days in jail.

Prosecutors dropped the case against Forde last month, saying he gave them their “first real glimpse” into what happened the night Gruver died. Forde testified at Naquin’s trial that he saw an obnoxiously loud Naquin hand Gruver a bottle of 190-proof liquor and order him to chug from it the night the freshman later died. But Forde said Naquin wasn’t the only Phi Delta Theta member who ordered pledges to drink alcohol that night.

Naquin is serving his sentence at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel. He will be on probation for three years after his release.

Negligent homicide is not considered a crime of violence in Louisiana, so Naquin will be eligible to seek parole after serving 25% — or 7½ months — of his 30-month prison term. He could end up serving even less time than that if he completes certain classes and programs in prison.

The misdemeanor hazing charge to which Isto and Gott pleaded no contest carried up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $100, under the law in place at the time of the Gruver hazing.

LSU law professor Ken Levy feels that Naquin’s prison time, and the closure of Phi Delta Theta on LSU’s campus, will make fraternity members more reluctant to pressure pledges to drink, as Naquin did.

“It stands to reason this will have some deterrent effect. How long that will last, nobody knows,” he said.

Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University in New Orleans and a hazing expert witness, said he believes the Naquin case has had “no impact whatsoever” on the hazing culture nationally, and particularly at LSU, where hazing arrests have occurred even since Gruver’s alcohol-related death.

“It hasn’t changed any behavior. It’s the idea of invincibility — ‘it’s not going to happen to me,’” he said.

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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