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Nebraska Law challenged again

All: Nebraska is again in news over hazing law–most interesting. Read the challenge.

UNL frat members in court on hazing charges

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BY MELISSA LEE / Lincoln Journal Star | Posted: Thursday, August 27, 2009 6:10 pm

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One member of Sigma Chi fraternity at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln pleaded no contest to a hazing charge Thursday, while the attorney for another argued in a pre-trial hearing the six hazing complaints leveled against his client were too vague to be properly defended.

Both appeared in Lancaster County Court before Judge Gale Pokorny.

First, Pokorny found Jonathan Knudsen, 21, of Grand Island guilty of hazing and scheduled a pre-sentencing investigation for Oct. 30.

Hazing is a Class II misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Knudsen was one of nine Sigma Chi members to be cited during a UNL police investigation into the fraternity, which has been suspended since April.

Police began investigating Sigma Chi after a former pledge came forward in February and said he and other pledges had been subjected to repeated hazing from fall 2008 to early 2009.

Among other claims, the pledge alleged he and other Sigma Chi hopefuls had been forced to drink alcohol until they vomited and were verbally assaulted and paddled.

The pledge also alleged he had been sodomized by a stripper holding a sex toy during an initiation party, an account no other pledge could corroborate.

No sexual assault charges have resulted from the investigation.

Three Sigma Chi members already have been found guilty of procuring alcohol for a minor, and one was found guilty of procuring and hazing.

Also Thursday, a pre-trial hearing was held for Kyle Humphrey, 22, of Omaha, charged with procuring alcohol for a minor and six counts of hazing.

Humphrey’s attorney, Korey Reiman of Lincoln, argued in court the hazing complaints against his client were too vague.

Prosecutors identified alleged victims only by their initials, and the hazing incidents are alleged to have occurred over such a long period of time that Reiman said it seems he’s being asked to defend Humphrey against every alleged hazing incident at Sigma Chi from fall 2008 to early 2009.

That’s unreasonable, Reiman said – especially considering Humphrey had no involvement in some incidents, notably the alleged sexual assault.

“(Prosecutors) shouldn’t be able to just throw out everything that happened and hope something sticks,” Reiman said in an interview.

But Deputy County Attorney Amy Jacobsen said in court she plans to show Humphrey “aided and abetted” repeated hazing at Sigma Chi by telling pledges they would be kicked out of the fraternity if they did not participate in certain initiation activities. Jacobsen also said she was prepared to identify the alleged victims by their full names.

Reiman requested a change of venue for Humphrey’s trial, saying the high volume of media coverage of the Sigma Chi case may hurt his client’s right to a fair trial.

Jacobsen contended significant media coverage alone wasn’t grounds to change venues, and said the request was premature until attorneys have the chance to question potential jurors to find out how much they actually know about the case.

Pokorny took the matter under advisement.

Another Sigma Chi member, Michael Classen, 22, of Omaha, also was due in court Thursday for a hearing, but Pokorny moved the hearing to Sept. 11. Classen has pleaded not guilty to charges of hazing and procuring alcohol for a minor.

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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