Frat initiates were caned, lawyer says

Published December 14, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - One of five fraternity brothers charged with felony hazing admitted that some prospective members were hit with canes during an initiation, a lawyer who investigated the matter testified Wednesday.

The Florida A&M University students are being retried in a test of a new state law that makes hazing a felony when it results in "serious bodily injury." Another jury could not reach a verdict in October, resulting in a mistrial.

Kappa Alpha Psi's regional head sent Stuart lawyer Linnus Finney Jr., a lifetime KAP member, to investigate allegations that initiates were beaten with boxing gloves and canes over several days in February.

Finney testified that he spoke by telephone to four of the defendants, including Michael Morton, a former Florida A&M chapter president.

"He said that there was physical contact and some caning occurred," Finney told the jury. "He told me that they verbally abused them; only a handful of guys were caned and took wood."

The fraternity brothers are charged only in the hazing of Marcus Jones, of Decatur, Ga., who suffered a perforated eardrum and severe bruising of the buttocks. He was hospitalized and had surgery, but has healed.

Under defense cross-examination, Finney said none of the defendants he spoke with admitted hitting Jones. Besides Morton, 23, of Fort Lauderdale, Finney said he interviewed Brian Bowman, 23, of Oakland, Calif.; Cory Gray, 23, of Montgomery, Ala.; and Marcus Hughes, 21, of Fort Lauderdale.

He said Gray acknowledged "something had taken place" but didn't elaborate. Bowman and Hughes denied anyone was caned, Finney said.

The fifth defendant, Jason Harris, 23, of Jacksonville, allegedly participated by encouraging Jones to bear up under the beatings and reviving him with water when he passed out from pain.

If convicted, they could face penalties ranging from probation to five years in prison.

A key issue in the case is whether Jones suffered "serious bodily injury," a term used in the law but not defined. The first jury asked for a definition, but Circuit Judge Kathleen Dekker said she could not offer one.