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The New Times: Matt’s law: California trial court gets case

The New Times link

Two frat members headed to trial for hazing as judge warns others
BY ROBERT A. McDONALD

A little more than an hour after he warned defense lawyers that calling their clients’ fraternity brothers to testify might put them in legal jeopardy, a San Luis Obispo judge found there was enough evidence to try two Cal Poly students for the hazing death of Sigma Alpha Epsilon pledge Carson Starkey.
 
 Haithem Ibrahim and Zacary Ellis are facing felony hazing charges in connection with the death of Starkey, an 18-year-old Cal Poly freshman from Austin, Texas, who died last December from alcohol poisoning after attending a booze-fueled fraternity initiation. According to the autopsy report, Starkey had a blood alcohol level of more than five times the legal limit. 
 
On the final day of the preliminary hearing Aug. 25, defense attorneys wanted to call a number of fraternity members and pledges who were present on the night of the incident, but Judge Michael Duffy warned the men they should talk to a lawyer before testifying.
 
“I am compelled to tell them that by testifying, they might be subjecting themselves to prosecution,” said Duffy, to a suddenly tense courtroom.
 
The 2006 anti-hazing law that Ibrahim and Ellis are charged with violating states, “Any person who personally engages in hazing that results in death or serious bodily injury” can be prosecuted. The judge implied that any frat members who encouraged pledges to drink that night could potentially be charged under the broad language of the law.
 
After meeting with the judge in his chambers, the defense lawyers decided not to call the additional fraternity members. Wallace Joseph Luke IV, a pledge, testified that he did not feel pressured to drink that night and that Ellis told him to “slow down and take it easy” after people began to throw up.
 
Other witnesses, however, described an atmosphere in which Starkey and others were encouraged to drink heavily.
 
After Starkey’s hearing, Sigma Alpha Epsilon members gathered outside the courtroom around Richard Conway, Ellis’ attorney, asking whether they should worry about being prosecuted.
 
“They are just jerking with you,” said Conway. “But you guys should talk to an attorney.”
 
Ibrahim and Ellis are scheduled to be arraigned Sept. 17.
 
This is the second case to go to trial under the state anti-hazing law. The first was against three Chico fraternity brothers who were accused of misdemeanor criminal hazing for running pledges through a physically strenuous initiation rite. All three were acquitted Aug. 25.

By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; 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 current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily--http://realalaskadaily.com and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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