Sunday, December 17, 2006

Hazing Trial results in Guilty Verdict

Two found guilty in FAMU hazing trial
Jurors didn't reach verdict on 3 others
By Chitra Subramanyam

After deliberating for more than six hours Friday, jurors in the Kappa Alpha Psi hazing trial came back with a mixed verdict. They found Michael J. Morton, 23, and Jason D. Harris, 25, guilty on charges of hazing. The verdict was unanimous.

However, jurors were unable to reach a verdict on the other three defendants: Brian K. Bowman, 23; Cory A. Gray, 23; and Marcus B. Hughes, 21.
Circuit Judge Kathleen Dekker declared a mistrial in their cases.

The five were arrested April 10 after Marcus Jones, a former sophomore at Florida A&M University, said he was beaten during a series of Alpha Xi initiation sessions.

Earlier, jurors sent a note to the judge telling her they'd reached a verdict on two defendants but were unable to come to a consensus on the three others. Dekker called them into the courtroom, instructed them to try again and sent them back to the jury room.

As they walked out, the defendants and their attorneys huddled in the courtroom talking in hushed voices. For a change, the gallery where the defendants' family and friends were seated was quiet.

Jones was present with his attorneys Roosevelt Randolph and Dawn Whitehurst as the verdict was read. They left immediately after. Randolph read from a statement on behalf of the Jones family. The verdict, he said, was a message to fraternities, sororities and other student organizations that “such conduct will not be tolerated.” He said the Jones family had not yet made a decision to file a civil lawsuit.

A sentencing hearing is slated for January. Those convicted face a maximum of five years in prison.

Jones said he was “delighted” at the verdict. However, he said all five defendants should have been convicted. “I know deep down they are criminals, too,” he said.

Assistant state attorney Frank Allman said he was happy with the verdict. He, however, did not say whether the State Attorney's Office would go to trial once again to reach a verdict on the remaining defendants. “That's a decision that can't be made in haste,” he said. “We will make the decision after careful consideration.”

Defense attorney Chuck Hobbs said, “It is a completely inconsistent verdict. It has very little logic to it, and I am extremely disappointed. While I respect the jury's right to make their decision, I am completely baffled.”

During closing arguments Friday morning, Allman wondered why people would submit themselves to beatings similar to those Jones testified to. “People submit to this for the end result. They will be a Kappa. The best and the brightest. They would be one of the elite,” Allman said.

Defense attorney Chuck Hobbs said, “The wrong men stand accused.” He talked of a “conspiracy” where the defendants volunteered to take the blame to save their chapter. He reminded jurors of chapter President Torey Alston's testimony on Wednesday. Alston identified the defendants by their fraternity nicknames. These, Hobbs, pointed out, were different from those the Leon County Sheriff's deputies had developed.

Defense attorney Richard Keith Alan II focused on serious bodily injury and the pathology report in his closing argument. He said the report indicated that Jones' buttock injury was “not an abscess, not an infection and not a hematoma with infection.” He said it was just a hematoma.
Alan told Judge Dekker that he was "moving to disqualify" her. Dekker told him to file a motion in writing.