Monday, December 10, 2007

2003 Plattsburgh Case Finally Settled

Wrongful-death judgment handed down for 2003 PSU hazing

PLATTSBURGH -- More than four years after Plattsburgh State student Walter Dean Jennings died from hazing-related torment, a judge has handed down a $1.5 million judgment for his death.

Jennings, a freshman history major at the local college, was pledging the Psi Epsilon Chi fraternity in March 2003 when he was forced to drink urine, stay awake for days and consume vast amounts of alcohol during a 10-day initiation and hazing process.

On his last night of pledging the unrecognized fraternity, the 18-year-old was forced to drink gallons of water through a funnel, which caused his brain to swell from water intoxication and ultimately resulted in his death.

After his death, which sparked outrage across the state, 10 of his alleged tormenters and an alumnus were collectively charged with more than 150 crimes and later pleaded guilty to a range of lesser charges that left them either serving probation or community service.

The 10 students were later expelled from Plattsburgh State.

In late 2004, Jennings' parents, Walter Jr. and Sue Jennings of Wilton, filed a wrongful-death suit against 14 members of the fraternity, which was banned by the college in 1998.

All but one, John Burnius, have since settled out of court.

According to the Albany Times Union, a State Supreme Court justice recently handed down a $1.5 million judgment against Burnius: $400,000 in compensatory damages, $100,000 for wrongful death and $1 million in punitive damages.The Times Union reported the punitive damages were awarded for Burnius' alleged "arrogant and uncivilized" disregard for Jennings' life and well-being.

The former fraternity house at 72 Broad St. was sold shortly after Jennings' death and is now used as college housing.
Chronicle of Higher EducationDecember 4, 2007
Parents Are Awarded $1.5-Million in Hazing Death of SUNY-Plattsburgh Student

The parents of a freshman at the State University of New York College at Plattsburgh who died in a fraternity hazing incident in 2003 have been awarded $1.5-million in a wrongful-death lawsuit against one of their son’s tormentors, the Times Union, a newspaper in Albany, N.Y., reported.

The judge presiding over the trial in a state court, Justice Stephen A. Ferradino, ordered John Burnius to pay the family of Walter Dean Jennings III $400,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 for wrongful death, plus $1-million in punitive damages for “arrogant and uncivilized” disregard for Mr. Jennings’s rights and welfare.

A police investigation in 2003 concluded that Mr. Jennings had died from swelling of the brain after being forced to drink gallons of water poured through a funnel. The Times Union reported that over a period of 12 days he was also repeatedly forced to drink alcohol until he vomited, consume drinks that had been urinated in, and sit in a confined space where the heat had been turned up as high as 100 degrees after he was forced to do calisthenics.

Mr. Burnius was one of 11 members of the Psi Epsilon Chi fraternity, which was not officially recognized by the university, who were charged with crimes, including criminally negligent homicide. They all pleaded guilty and were sentenced to probation and community service. In 2004 Mr. Jennings’s parents sued Mr. Burnius and 13 other members of Psi Epsilon Chi. All of the other defendants settled out of court.

The university punished 21 students in connection with the death. -Charles Huckabee
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