Florida tests anti-hazing laws, brings case against A&M; fraternity members

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Marcus Jones said he had a ruptured ear drum and injuries to his buttocks that required 25 stitches after his initiation into the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity at Florida A&M; University.

He told his parents that for four days he was blindfolded, paddled with wooden canes and punched with boxing gloves.

Jones, a sophomore, wanted to keep the February incident quiet, but his father called police. They charged five fraternity brothers under a new Florida law that makes hazing a felony if it results in serious bodily injury or death. Possible penalties range from probation to five years in prison.

The case is the first major test of one of the nation’s toughest anti-hazing laws. Opening statements in the trial start Wednesday, which is appropriately the middle of National Hazing Prevention Week, an event organized by the Association of Fraternity Advisors.

Forty-four states have anti-hazing laws, but Florida is one of the few that has made it a serious criminal offense, said retired Pennsylvania Judge Mitch Crane, an anti-hazing advocate who has been following the case.

The defendants, Brian Bowman, 23; Cory Gray, 22; Jason Harris, 25; Marcus Hughes, 21, and Michael Morton, 23, have been suspended pending the outcome of the case. The university also has suspended the fraternity chapter until 2013.

“If these young men are found guilty and if they are sent to jail then it will have national implications,” Crane said .

The Florida law was inspired by the 2001 death of 18-year-old Chad Meredith during rush week at the University of Miami.