Pair sentenced to 2 years each in FAMU hazing
Published: Tuesday, January 30, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 29, 2007 at 11:44 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — Two Florida A&M University fraternity brothers each received two-year prison terms Monday from a judge who said she wanted to send a message with the state's first prosecution under its new felony hazing law.
Michael Morton, 23, of Fort Lauderdale, and Jason Harris, 25, of Jacksonville, were led from the courtroom in handcuffs and so was Harris' lawyer, Richard Keith Alan II, who was charged with indirect criminal contempt.
Morton, former president of the university's Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, was found guilty of striking prospective member Marcus Jones, 20, of Decatur, Ga., with a wooden cane so severely during four nights of initiation rites that he underwent surgery for bruising to his buttocks.
Harris was convicted of participating by encouraging Jones to bear up under the beatings and reviving him with water after he passed out so he could go back for more punishment.
Circuit Judge Kathleen Dekker said one year might have been enough to punish them but that she added a second year to make sure that their sentences serve as a deterrent to others. They will receive credit for more than six weeks already spent in jail since being convicted.
"I want to save the victims who will quietly go along because they want to belong," Dekker said. "I want schools to be furious and mad and upset that they can lose talent to this and come down hard on hazing."
Dekker said she also wanted parents to tell their children, "Don't you put up with this" and students to say, "Those guys, they got two years, Oh my God."
A jury in December convicted both under the 2005 law that makes it a felony to participate in hazing that results in serious bodily injury. They could have received 12 months to five years under sentencing guidelines.
It was the second trial for Morton, Harris and three other fraternity members, also charged with beating Jones with canes and punching him.
The first jury was unable to reach a verdict after raising questions about serious bodily injury, which is not defined in the law. The second jury also was unable to reach a verdict for the other three defendants and they are to be tried a third time in March.
Jones also suffered a broken ear drum that has since healed. He was not in court, but said in a statement read to Dekker that he still has pain in his buttocks and suffers from stress, depression, sleepless nights and flashbacks.
"I'm looked at like a snitch by my peers," Jones said in the statement. "I've lost many friends."
His father, Army Master Sgt. Mark Jones, addressed Dekker in person, saying the defendants have not shown any remorse.
"They tortured my son," the elder Jones said. "He wasn't hazed. He was tortured."
Dekker did not explain her decision to charge Alan with contempt of court but he often argued with her over her legal rulings in the case even after the decisions were made.
A parade of character witnesses including clergy, university professors and former Florida A&M University President Fred Gainous testified that Morton and Harris were excellent students, leaders and upstanding young men.
They urged Dekker to be lenient and also withhold adjudication of guilt, which she refused to do. That decision means Harris, a pharmacy major, and Morton, who was two weeks from graduating with an engineering degree, probably will be unable to obtain state licenses in those professions.
Chuck Hobbs, a lawyer who represented all of the defendants except Harris, said the convictions will be appealed on grounds that that law is unconstitutionally vague because it lacks a serious bodily injury definition.
Hobbs said Marcus Jones made a choice to undergo the initiation and could have withdrawn at any time.
"So I don't view him as the helpless victim," Hobbs said. "I view him as the willing participant."
The new law, though, prohibits evidence of willing participants from being used as a defense to hazing.
Harris declined an opportunity to speak. Morton told the judge that he grew up without a father in his home and asked to be released so he could be a father to his unborn child. His fiancee, Lena Gallego, tearfully told the judge she was more than four months pregnant and that Morton would never again appear in court unless it was to marry her.
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