A former LSU student and ex-Phi Delta Theta member was convicted of negligent homicide Wednesday in the 2017 alcohol-related hazing death of 18-year-old fraternity pledge Max Gruver.
Gruver’s parents, Stephen and Rae Ann, said the verdict meant justice for their son and for Matthew Naquin, the young man found criminally negligent in their son’s death.
Naquin’s lead attorney, John McLindon, called the decision a travesty and said he will appeal.
An East Baton Rouge Parish jury of four men and two women deliberated just 45 minutes before reaching its verdict shortly before noon. Naquin’s defense lawyer rested after calling two witnesses to the stand; neither was his client.
In an emotional exchange, lead prosecutor Morgan Johnson and Rae Ann Gruver embraced for what seemed like minutes and cried together after the jurors left the 19th Judicial District courtroom.
State District Judge Beau Higginbotham said he’ll sentence Naquin, 21, of Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, on Oct. 16. Naquin faces anywhere from probation to up to five years in prison. The judge ordered a presentence investigation.
Higginbotham set a $10,000 post-conviction bond for Naquin and sheriff’s deputies led him out of the courtroom. Naquin was released from East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on Wednesday afternoon after the bond is posted.
Gruver, of Roswell, Georgia, had been at LSU a month when he died of alcohol poisoning in what authorities have described as a hazing ritual — dubbed "Bible study" — at the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house.
Prosecutors rested their case Tuesday against a former LSU student accused in the 2017 hazing death of Phi Delta Theta pledge Max Gruver after…
Gruver and other Phi Delta Theta pledges were told to chug 190-proof liquor the night of Sept. 13, 2017, if they gave wrong answers to questions about the fraternity or could not recite the Greek alphabet.
Gruver died the following morning. His blood-alcohol level was 0.495%, which is more than six times the legal limit to drive in Louisiana. An autopsy also detected THC, the chemical found in marijuana, in Gruver's system.
"The goal here is stop hazing of any sort, but definitely to stop hazing that leads to death," East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said outside the courthouse Wednesday.
"We want them to leave in a black hat, not a black bag," he added, noting the difference between a mortarboard and a coroner's office bag.
The former pledge educator for Phi Delta Theta's now-banned LSU chapter testified Monday he had asked Matthew Naquin just two days before 18-y…
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Prosecutors alleged Naquin was primarily responsible for Gruver's death, but while testifying for the defense Gruver's former LSU roommate said Tuesday that Gruver was frequenting bars and missing classes throughout his brief time at LSU. James Patrick Canter, who pledged Phi Delta Theta with Gruver, said he could tell Gruver “had not had much experience with drinking.”
McLindon, the defense lawyer, said he was devastated that the jury found Naquin guilty.
“There were so many boys up there distributing alcohol. To pin this all on one guy is really unfair,” he said.
Naquin's former LSU roommate, Ryan Matthew Isto, 20, of Butte, Montana, and ex-LSU student Sean-Paul Gott, 22, of Lafayette, pleaded no contest last year to misdemeanor hazing and testified last week. They haven’t been sentenced. Another former LSU student charged with hazing, Patrick Andrew Forde, 22, of Westwood, Massachusetts, also testified as a prosecution witness. Prosecutors said they’ll decide down the road whether to prosecute him.
Naquin has also been charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly deleting hundreds of files from his phone during the criminal investigation and after a search warrant had been issued for the phone, but he was not standing trial on that charge this month.
"We want this to send a message to the country that hazing should not exist," Stephen Gruver, Max's father, said Wednesday. "It's dangerous and we have to all work together to bring an end to hazing."
Trial testimony and court documents filed in the case indicate Naquin was warned by members of the fraternity — just two days before Gruver died — to tone down his interactions with pledges. He was told his actions with pledges were extreme and dangerous.
Phi Delta Theta has been banned from the LSU campus until at least 2033 as a result of the investigation into the events leading to Gruver's death.
"It won't bring Max back... it's not something we're ever going to be happy about but at the same time it's justice for our son and for the man who caused his death," Rae Ann Gruver said Wednesday.
The Gruvers said it's incredibly painful to relive what their son went through that night, but necessary.
"We'll keep telling Max's story over and over again. Hazing needs to end. Hazing kills," his mother said.
Naquin’s attorneys rested Thursday after calling their two witnesses. Johnson and fellow prosecutor Adam Kwentua rested their case late Tuesday afternoon after calling more than 40 witnesses over five days.
Several witnesses testified that Naquin disliked Gruver, wanted him cut from the fraternity and played a central role in the ill-fated hazing.
Other witnesses have testified that Gruver drank excessively and smoked marijuana in the four weeks leading up to his death.
The misdemeanor hazing charge to which Isto and Gott pleaded no contest carries up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $100, under the law in place at the time of the Gruver hazing.
Last year, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law the Max Gruver Act and other anti-hazing bills meant to curb hazing and increase penalties. Gruver’s parents were instrumental in the passage of the act bearing his name.
Under HB 78, which became the Gruver Act, people who participate in hazing activities that result in death when the victim's blood alcohol level is at least 0.30% would face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. Hazing that doesn't lead to death would be subject to fines of up to $1,000 and six months in prison.
Organizations — fraternities, sororities, associations, social clubs, athletic teams and similar groups on college or high school campuses — that knowingly allow hazing could also face fines of up to $10,000.