Hazing case ends in mistrial

Jurors cannot decide whether five Florida A&M fraternity brothers caused "serious" injuries to a pledge.

Published October 10, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - Jurors, perplexed by an undefined legal term, were unable to reach a verdict Monday in the hazing trial of five Florida A&M University fraternity members, and the judge declared a mistrial.

The trial would have been the first to test a Florida law, passed in 2005, that makes hazing a third-degree felony if it results in death or "serious bodily injury." But the law does not define the latter term.

The mistrial was declared about 20 minutes after the six-member jury, after more than three hours of deliberation, sent a note to Circuit Judge Kathleen Dekker asking for a more substantial definition.

Dekker's only instruction to the jury had been that serious bodily injury means injury that is neither slight nor moderate. The jurors asked how to distinguish between serious and moderate injury. She told the jury there was no further legal instruction.

"I think they were very unsure as to what is the definition," said defense lawyer Chuck Hobbs. "That is a very serious legal term and it has been defined in other states and yet for whatever reason it's not defined in this one."

Hobbs said he will seek a retrial within 90 days.

Four Kappa Alpha Psi brothers were charged with using canes, boxing gloves and bare fists to beat aspiring fraternity member Marcus Jones, 20, of Decatur, Ga., so severely over four nights of an initiation ritual that he suffered a broken eardrum and needed surgery on his buttocks.

The fifth defendant was accused of assisting in the hazing by encouraging Jones and other would-be fraternity members to bear up under the beatings and reviving them with water when they passed out from pain.

The defendants accused of striking Jones were Michael Morton, 23, of Fort Lauderdale; Brian Bowman, 23, of Oakland, Calif.; Cory Gray, 22, of Montgomery, Ala., and Marcus Hughes, 21, of Fort Lauderdale. Jason Harris, 25, of Jacksonville was accused of assisting them.

"This was no accident. This was no joke. This was not playtime at the frat house," Assistant State Attorney Frank Allman said in his closing argument. "This was intentional. This was dangerous."

Before the closing arguments, Dr. Kenneth Lee, an internist from Palm Beach County, testified for the defense that the bruising to Jones' buttocks was not serious and the surgery was unnecessary, based on his review of photos and medical records.

"This is the type of thing I see in my office all the time," Lee said, adding that two days earlier he had seen a 90-year-old woman with a similar injury from a fall.

Lee said Jones' injury would have healed fine by using ice packs to hold down the swelling. A small patch of dead skin removed in surgery would have fallen off on its own, he said.

Allman relied on earlier testimony by Dr. David Fern, a surgeon who operated on Jones in Atlanta.

Fern initially said the injury was as serious as anything he had seen in an auto accident, but he later acknowledged there were no broken bones, and no muscle or nerve damage, blood clots or lasting effects other than a scar.

The university had suspended the defendants pending the trial's result. It suspended the fraternity until 2013, regardless of the result.