Salt Lake Tribune
Updated:01/12/2009 06:59:42 PM MST
by Brian Maffly
A dozen Utah State University students appeared in court Monday to enter not-guilty pleas to misdemeanor charges that they participated in an alleged hazing that contributed to the death of a freshman fraternity pledge in November.
An attorney for Cody Littlewood, the commander of the Sigma Nu fraternity, contends Littlewood was not present at the hazing, discouraged alcohol use at Sigma Nu initiations, and took good care of 18-year-old pledge Michael Starks when he returned intoxicated.
“Cody Littlewood gave Michael Starks excellent care,” said lawyer Clayton Simms “It’s a tragedy. They liked Michael. They enjoyed his company. It’s double whammy to lose a friend and to be blamed for his demise.”
Cache County prosecutors have charged Littlewood, a 20-year-old junior majoring in journalism, three Sigma Nu brothers, and eight underage members of Chi Omega sorority with class A misdemeanors that carry a maximum jail term of one year. They have pretrial hearings set for Jan. 26. The USU chapters of their organizations are charged with felony hazing in connection with Starks’ Nov. 21 death from alcohol poisoning.
Before the incident, Littlewood and other Sigma Nu members identified Starks as their top pledge, whose reward was to be “captured” by Chi Omega women next door, according to charges. The women took Starks to a Logan home, where they painted him and gave him a liter of vodka, most of which he drank before his fellow pledges “rescued” him.
“He ended up at the fraternity house and was very intoxicated,” Simms said. “That was a concern for the fraternity brothers.”
Littlewood helped Starks remove the blue paint from his skin and another member called poison control. They followed the recommendations to lay Starks on his side and give him water. Littlewood remained up through the early morning hours studying and playing video games, going into Starks’ room every 30 to 45 minutes. He discovered Starks wasn’t breathing at around 4 a.m. and called 911.
According to Simms, Littlewood had no knowledge that the women would give Starks alcohol and had specifically forbidden any pledges be given liquor at initiation events.