Sentencing for the two fraternity members convicted of hazing will take place later this month, while those not charged could stand to be retried.
Jason Harris, 25, of Jacksonville, and Michael Morton, 23, of Fort Lauderdale, will face Circuit Judge Kathleen Dekker Jan. 29 to be sentenced on separate counts of felony hazing. The two members of the Alpha Xi Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. were found guilty Dec. 15 of hazing Marcus Jones, 20, a former environmental science student from Decatur, Ga.
The case was declared a mistrial for the three other defendants being tried: Brian Bowman, 23, of Oakland, Calif., Cory Gray, 23, of Montgomery, Ala., and Marcus Hughes, 21, of Fort Lauderdale.
“I don’t really have a feel for why they chose to convict Michael Morton and Jason Harris and not the others,” said Chuck Hobbs, attorney for all the accused except Harris.Hobbs argued that there was just a clear lack of definition in the case.
From the onset, jurors in the case struggled to define what was exactly meant by “bodily injury.”
According to subsection 1 of Florida Statute 1006.63, hazing includes any brutality of a physical nature, such as whipping and beating. The uncertainty of the jury led to a mistrial Oct. 9 for all five defendants.
In the most recent trial, jurors reached a verdict based on the members’ actual involvement in the physical beating of Jones. “The conduct of the two members who were convicted was viewed as more participatory,” Assistant State Attorney Frank Allman said.
Both Harris and Morton were held in custody after the verdict was rendered.
Hobbs and Richard Keith Alan II, attorney for Harris, asked that their clients be released while their cases were being appealed. Judge Dekker denied that decision.
Hobbs was told he could not file an appeal until after the defendants were sentenced.
Hobbs also spoke with Morton’s family, who was upset with the verdict.
“His family was saddened that he would be kept in jail,” Hobbs said. “They have chosen not to make any statements until the sentencing hearing.” The two young men convicted could be sentenced to “probation or up to 5 years in prison,” Hobbs said. “At the time of their sentence hearing, they will have both served at least 50 days in jail.”
The other defendants, Bowman, Gray and Hughes, have all been released on bail since their initial arrest.
“We don’t know if the state is going to try the other three young men again,” Hobbs said.
The three defendants not convicted will have a trial status conference also set to take place Jan. 29.
“As far as a retrial, we have not made a decision on that,” Allman said. “I have been receiving letters on behalf of the defendants, but the whole thing is still pending.”
Information that Hobbs has gathered points toward three possible decisions that could be handed down for the young men not convicted.
“The state can choose to retry the others,” he said. “They may also offer some type of deal such as a plea bargain, or they could drop the case,” he said.
Family members, concerned leaders and members of the community are expected to be in attendance at the hearing and conference.
“Several highly regarded people plan to attend on behalf of Morton and the others,” Hobbs said.