‘Serious bodily injury’ stumps jury in hazing case

Confusion among jurors about what constitutes “serious bodily injury” resulted in a mistrial Monday in the case where five members of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. were charged with hazing.

After deliberating for a few hours, the jury delivered a question to the judge asking for “a more substantial definition of what constitutes serious bodily injury.”

The judge refused, saying the jury had to derive its own definition from the evidence and testimonies presented in the trial.

According to the Florida Statutes, Article 1006.63, Section 2, “A person commits hazing, a third-degree felony, when he or she intentionally or recklessly commits any act of hazing as defined in subsection (1) upon another person who is a member of or an applicant to any type of student organization, hazing and the hazing results in serious bodily injury or death of such other person.

History of EventsIn April, five Kappa members, Michael Morton, Brian Bowman, Marcus Hughes, Cory Gray and Jason Harris, were arrested and charged with the alleged hazing of Marcus Jones, 20, a former environmental science student from Decatur, Ga.

The hazing investigation began when Jones drove home in March and his father noticed blood caused by injuries to his son’s buttocks.

Mark Jones, Marcus Jones’ father, notified police of possible hazing allegations.

The five fraternity members accused were in charge of the initiates.

The university immediately took action and suspended the five fraternity members involved. The university also suspended the Alpha Xi chapter from Florida A&M University until 2013.

Morton, nicknamed “Big Daddy Go 4 Play,” was the leader of the five, according to the probable cause affidavit written by Detective Brice Google from the Leon County Sheriff’s Department.

During the trial, Marcus Jones testified that he was beat with canes and punched in the head during a series of initiation sessions. He also testified that Harris never hit him; Marcus Jones said Harris encouraged him and helped him get back in line. Closing ArgumentsAs the closing arguments began at 12:30 p.m. Monday, the prosecution began explaining the three elements the jury would need to consider when contemplating a verdict.

The three elements included determining if the victim was trying to become a member of the fraternity, the identity of who was involved in the hazing and the injuries that were sustained as they relate to serious bodily injury.

Assistant State Attorney Frank Allman also stressed that Harris, a pharmacy student, should not be relieved of criminal responsibility just because he did not hit anyone.

“He’s the one that helped them. He’s the medical one. He’s the one that gave them water. He’s as guilty as if he had a cane in his hand,” Allman said.

Allman told the jury that all of the defendants were aware of what they were doing. “Brian Bowman said he didn’t think what they did was that serious,” he said.

Marcus Jones testified that he heard Morton say that this pledge class was going to be the “hardest line ever,” Allman said.”Why would Marcus Jones lie about Jason Harris not hitting him?” the prosecutor asked the jury.

At 1:06 p.m., the defense approached the jury with closing arguments.

Chuck Hobbs, defense attorney for all the defendants except Harris, began by saying the alleged victim was inconsistent.

“Marcus Jones lies when it’s convenient for him,” Hobbs said. Marcus Jones and his father lied to Detective John Cotton about being on Morphine after he realized he had lied about whether he could see who hit him, Hobbs said.

“Where are the bloody clothes?” Hobbs questioned. “They don’t exist.”

There was inconsistent evidence that did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his clients were guilty, Hobbs told the jury.

“Not only is there concession that Mr. Harris did not hit anybody, Jones testified that he didn’t encourage anybody to hit him,” said Richard Keith Allen II, Harris’ attorney, in his closing arguments.

Allman later stated that he offered a plea bargain to Morton that consisted of jail time if he would testify truthfully. “I declined to accept,” said Morton.

All the accused fraternity members refused to testify.

The VerdictAfter deliberating for about three hours, the jury announced that they could not reach a verdict. Prior to announcing their failure to reach a verdict, the jury asked for copies of police reports as well as a more substantial definition of what constitutes serious bodily injury.

After being told no both times, they sent a statement to the judge declaring that they were deadlocked.

Attorneys for the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the case based on the Legislature’s failure to define the phrase “serious bodily injury” during the pre-trial in September because, Allen said, the term is not defined in the statute.

“This is an issue for the jury – what constitutes serious bodily injury,” Dekker said at the time.

After the trial was over, Allen was disappointed at the Legislature’s failure to define the term.

“We would have loved for the Florida Legislature to give a better definition, but they didn’t do their job,” Allen said. “The jury was looking for more guidance.”

Hobbs explained that he and the other defendants were somewhat disappointed that they did not get a not guilty verdict. “The jury’s last question, I think, led to the decision of a mistrial,” Hobbs said. “We’ll be ready for the next go-round.” Dekker announced that she is required to set a date for the retrial within a period of 90 days

Torey Alston, 22, a graduate business administration student from Fort Lauderdale and the president of the Alpha Xi chapter during the time of hazing allegations, said he feels that this whole case may have possibly been an attack on the chapter. The Leon County Sheriff’s Department and the FAMU Police Department never talked to Alpha Xi’s leadership about what took place, Alston said.

“We want this to be behind us,” Alston said. “We ask for everyone’s continued support and prayers.”

The university was not able to comment on the case since there will be another trial.