Two Kappa Alpha Psi members each received two-year prison sentences at a court hearing that followed a lengthy series of mistrials.
Jason Harris, 25, and Michael Morton, 23, stood before Circuit Judge Kathleen Dekker Monday and found out that in addition to the prison terms, they would be remanded to serve three years probation and mandated to attend a 4-hour anti-hazing class.
The two Kappas, convicted of third-degree felony hazing, entered the courtroom wearing handcuffs, shackles and matching black uniforms with the words “Leon County Jail” written on the back in bold white letters.
“These uniforms don’t fit these guys,” said Marvin Green, a witness who pleaded to the judge for leniency toward the two men. “Give these guys a second chance,” he said. “They are going to serve America well.”
Witnesses poured into the courtroom and lined the narrow hallway outside the doors in an effort to hear the fate handed down by the judge.
“I hope it (hazing) stops here,” Dekker said. “I’m not stupid, but I hope this goes a big step in the right direction.”
The victim, Marcus Jones, did not appear in court, but Mark Jones, his father, spoke on his behalf.
“Marcus’ life is a total wreck now,” Jones said.
He said his son has undergone a great deal of mental anguish because of the case.
“I don’t know what the outcome is going to be,” Jones said. “All I’m asking is let the punishment fit the crime.”
A statement by the victim was read in court detailing his current suffering.
“I have lost time out of schooling,” Marcus Jones said in the written statement. “I have missed out on internships. I’ve been blackballed by Greek organizations.”
Jones said he has permanent scarring on his buttocks, cannot sit for long periods of time, experiences sleepless nights and has flashbacks of the incident.
“A message must be sent to Jason Harris and Michael Morton that this (hazing) must be stopped,” the document stated. “I don’t ever want this to happen to another college student.”But other people in the courtroom begged the judge for mercy.”Michael has been my backbone and my provider,” said Lina Gallego, a fourth-year pharmacy candidate and Morton’s fiancÃ©e. “Your honor, I want to remind you that it is not only Michael’s future in your hands, but mine and that of my unborn child.”
Gallego said she is four months pregnant with Morton’s child.Morton’s mother, Linette Reid, also approached the judge. “Your honor, I am begging you to have leniency on my son, my one and only child,” Reid said. She said her son is a respectable person and that if released, he would never appear in a court of law again.
The pleas were not enough to sway the judge’s decision. The sentence, grounded in a new Florida law, resonated strongly throughout the courtroom.
Dekker had the option to charge the defendants with a maximum penalty of five years. She opted for a lighter sentence, but said she wanted the defendants to know that hazing of any kind is not a light matter.
“This hazing stuff is real,” Dekker said. “You can form tight relationships without this type of behavior.”
Harris chose to invoke his 5th Amendment right by not making a statement at the hearing.
State Attorney Frank Allman viewed this action as Harris’ lack of taking responsibility for the crime he had committed.
“They (the defendants) treated this proceeding like it was an inconvenience to them,” Allman said. “This is not ‘boys will be boys.’ This is a crime of violence.”
The state attorney argued that as leaders, Morton and Harris had a responsibility to stop hazing, but instead, they imposed further attacks on Jones.
“They fostered an atmosphere such that the victims were afraid to come forward,” Allman said.
Dekker forbade Harris and Morton from having any contact with one another during their incarceration and probation. The defendants were instructed not to affiliate themselves with any Greek members or organizations.
Dekker also announced the defendants would each be responsible for paying $920 in court costs and $2,611, the out-of-pocket costs of Jones’ medical and insurance bills.