No contest, no prison in FAMU hazing

Published March 20, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Three Florida A&M University fraternity brothers avoided prison terms by pleading no contest Monday to a lesser charge in the beating of a prospective member.

Each received probation, including 30 days in the Leon County sheriff's work camp or a similar program, after entering the pleas to misdemeanor hazing.

All five fraternity brothers were tried together for felony hazing. The second jury, though, convicted two of the defendants, and each was sentenced to two years in prison. They are appealing.

Circuit Judge Kathleen Dekker accepted the plea agreement, but warned Brian Bowman, 23, of Oakland, Calif., Cory Gray, 23, of Montgomery, Ala., and Marcus Hughes, 21, of Fort Lauderdale they still could get up to 11 months, 29 days in jail if they violate probation.

The five Kappa Alpha Psi brothers were the first people charged with violating a new state law that makes it a felony, with a five-year maximum prison sentence, to commit hazing that results in serious bodily injury.

The victim, Marcus Jones, 20, of Decatur, Ga., was struck on the bottom with wooden canes and in the head with fists and boxing gloves during unauthorized initiation rites last year. A doctor operated on his buttocks to help heal a large bruise. Jones also suffered a broken eardrum.

Assistant State Attorney Frank Allman later said Jones and his family had no problem with the agreement.

The first jury failed to agree on any of the five defendants after struggling with a definition for serious bodily injury after hearing conflicting medical testimony on whether the victim's injuries were serious. The term is not defined in the new law.

The second jury in December was unable to agree on Bowman, Gray and Hughes, but convicted Michael Morton, 23, of Fort Lauderdale, and Jason Harris, 25, of Jacksonville, after Dekker defined serious bodily injury.

That will be a major issue on appeal for Morton and Harris. They are being held in the county jail pending rulings by Dekker on motions for a new trial and to grant appeal bonds.

Neither jury was given the option of convicting the defendants on the lesser offense. The only choice they had was a felony conviction or acquittal.