Moderator: Like “something going around,” it seems as if hazing cases have had more than a bit of snagging at the prosecutor level lately.
Hazing case may elude trial
By TERRY VAU DELL – Staff Writer
Article Launched: 09/11/2007 12:00:00 AM PDT
OROVILLE — A judge Monday ruled that the way a criminal hazing complaint against three former Chico State University fraternity officials is worded prevents them from adequately defending the allegations in court.
The prosecution was given 10 days to try to amend the charging document accordingly, or possibly face dismissal of the case.
But there is some doubt whether the prosecutor’s intended cure will go far enough to permit the hazing case to proceed to trial.
It is believed to be the first case in California to be prosecuted under a criminal hazing statute enacted earlier this year by the state Legislature, dubbed “Matt’s Law,” in memory of Chico State University freshman Matthew Carrington, 21, who died after being forced to drink large amounts of water during a fraternity initiation rite in February 2005.
In the current case, three officers of the now-banned Chico chapter of Beta Theta Pi fraternity â€” its president, Christopher Bizot, 23, vice president, Michael Murphy, 22, and ritualist, Matthew Krupp, 23 â€” are accused of taking part in the hazing of pledges last April in a manner “likely to cause serious bodily injury.”
The misdemeanor charges could carry up to one year in jail and a maximum $5,000 fine.
Bizot is facing an additional charge of obstructing justice during a campus police investigation into the incidents.
District Attorney Mike Ramsey stated previously that over a four-day period, as many as a dozen pledges were forced
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to crawl through sand or mud, engage in rigorous exercises and stand in a bathtub filled with ice water while being gilled about fraternity lore.
Attorneys for the three ex-fraternity officials argued in legal briefs that because the criminal complaint does not specify what acts they committed, nor identify a particular victim, they cannot properly defend the hazing charges.
William Mayo, Bizot’s attorney, also asserted that having already been expelled from Chico State for the current semester, his client and Murphy are being illegally penalized twice for the same offense. Krupp attends Butte College.
On that point, Judge Tamara Mosbarger, a former veteran prosecutor appointed earlier this year by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to a vacant seat on the Butte County Superior Court, disagreed.
The judge Monday sided with the prosecution in ruling that a university administrative hearing resulting in expulsion was not the same as a criminal prosecution and thus “double jeopardy” laws do not apply in the local hazing case.
Although Mosbarger said the criminal complaint does not have to name a specific victim, simply referring to the new hazing law in the charging document “is not sufficient enough to notify the defendants what they have to defend against,” the judge told the prosecutor.
The judge sustained a defense challenge called a “demur” to the hazing charges, but gave the district attorney until Sept. 19 to amend the complaint to conform with the court’s ruling.
Attorneys for the three suspects contend that means the charging document must now specify which acts of criminal hazing their clients allegedly committed.
But deputy district attorney Michael Sanderson maintains that because the allegations are already contained in campus police reports that have been turned over to the defense, he need only modify the criminal complaint by adding specific language from Matt’s Law to satisfy the judge’s ruling.
“We are not required by law to enumerate all the acts in the complaint,” asserted the prosecutor.
But the lawyers for the three accused fraternity officials strongly disagree.
“The complaint is very vague as to what act constituted the actual hazing,” said Murphy’s attorney, Michael Erpino.
“From our reading of the police report … a lot of people went through a lot of things here and it’s just hard to tell what person was actually a victim. We’re having a real hard time deciding whether any crime was committed at all,” said Erpino.
“It would help to have (the name of) a victim to talk to regarding whether they felt their lives were in any danger, or whether the acts they were performing could cause great bodily injury,” added the defense attorney.
Dane Cameron, Krupp’s attorney and a professor at Chico State, echoed those comments.
“We have a right to know who our accusers are and to confront our accusers,” Cameron told the Enterprise-Record.
In court Monday, the prosecutor told the judge that, in fact, “the state of California is the victim here.”
But Mayo, who researched and wrote the legal arguments for the defense, countered that the prosecution’s strategy prevents the three fraternity officials from attempting to settle the case prior to trial through a “civil compromise” with the alleged hazing victims.