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Matt’s Case Update: Chico State Orion

Beta hazing case to change hands soon
By: Jason Hynes
Issue date: 3/11/09 Section: News
The attorneys in the Beta Theta Pi alleged hazing case involving three students reconvened Thursday morning for the first time since December.

The meeting was arranged during the last court session to ascertain the health of defendant Chris Bizot’s ailing attorney, Bill Mayo, said Deputy District Attorney Michael Sanderson.

Mayo, who died Feb. 4, represented Bizot since the beginning of the case, according to the Butte County Superior Court.

An attorney for Bizot did not show up to the pretrial meeting, but Bizot has approached a possible candidate to replace Mayo, Sanderson said.

Attorney Kevin Sears has been contacted by Bizot to take on his case, Sears said. It’s not official yet, whether he will replace Mayo.

Former Chico State student and Orion editor Mike Murphy, Chico State student Bizot and Butte College student Matthew Krupp were officials for the now-defunct Beta Theta Pi fraternity. They were charged with misdemeanor violations under Matt’s Law in July 2007.

The three students allegedly made pledges stand in ice baths, crawl through mud and do calisthenics during the rush of spring 2007, said District Attorney Mike Ramsey.

Matt’s Law was passed in 2006 after 21-year-old Chico State student Matthew Carrington died of water intoxication in a hazing ritual at an unrecognized fraternity in February 2005.

But the case has taken longer than expected to reach a resolution, which could be attributed to multiple motions, appeals and writs filed by the defense, Sanderson said.

“(Matt’s Law is) a new statute,” he said. “They’re kind of trying to test the limits of it – see where it’s going to go.”

The case was set for trial April 14, 2008, but an appeal by the defense delayed it.

The appeal contested whether the state of California could be considered the victim in the case and not individual pledges who were allegedly hazed.

Appellate courts, by their nature, prolong any case, Sanderson said.

“These delays don’t work in our favor because witnesses start leaving the area, or memories start fading,” he said. “So, we just as soon get it on and get it over with.”

Murphy declined to comment on the case. Bizot and Krupp couldn’t be reached by press time.

Sears remembered Mayo as a great person and a fierce advocate for his clients, he said. But Sears doesn’t think he’ll be bound by the direction of Mayo’s defense strategy.

“I’m sure I wouldn’t do it just like he did,” Sears said. “I have my own style.”

Sears has experience with more heavy-handed cases, such as murder and manslaughter, and was an attorney for former student John Paul Fickes in the landmark trial for Carrington’s case.

“I’m quite comfortable handling a case like that,” he said.

Sears declined to comment on Matt’s Law being the basis for Bizot’s case.

The jury trial for all three men is set for April 13.

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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