A prosecutor and a defense lawyer put much different spins Friday on allegations that Max Gruver drank excessively and smoked marijuana in the four weeks leading up to his fatal 2017 alcohol-related hazing.
An attorney for a former LSU student charged in the 18-year-old fraternity pledge’s death described the allegations as “habit evidence" while a prosecutor described them as “victim shaming.”
In the end, a state judge called them inadmissible character evidence and said an East Baton Rouge Parish jury won’t hear those statements when Matthew Naquin stands trial July 8 on negligent homicide.
Naquin’s lead lawyer, John McLindon, said he’ll ask the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal to reverse District Judge Beau Higginbotham’s ruling.
Gruver, of Roswell, Georgia, died Sept. 14, 2017, of alcohol poisoning following a hazing ritual dubbed “Bible study,” in which Phi Delta Theta pledges were required to chug hard liquor if they gave wrong answers to questions about the fraternity.
An autopsy showed his blood-alcohol level was 0.495 percent, which is more than six times the legal limit to drive in Louisiana. The autopsy also detected the chemical found in marijuana, THC, in his system.
McLindon filed a motion in late February that quotes fraternity members who described Gruver as a “party animal” who drank alcohol and smoked marijuana on a daily basis in the month he was on LSU’s campus and showed up “high” to the ill-fated September 2017 hazing ritual.
The defense lawyer for a former LSU student accused in the 2017 alcohol-related hazing death of Max Gruver portrayed the fraternity pledge in …
Gruver's roommate stated in an interview that Gruver, who was on the LSU campus about 30 days, was "sober for maybe five of those nights," the court filing says. Another witness told the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office it was commonplace for him to see Gruver drunk, so he “did not think much of it when Max was laid out on the couch” following the hazing ritual, the filing states.
The motion asked Higginbotham to declare those statements admissible evidence at Naquin’s trial.
At the hearing on that motion, McLindon argued Friday that the statements made by fraternity members, Gruver’s friends and Naquin’s co-defendants show it is “less probable” that Gruver was forced, coerced or pressured to drink alcohol the night he died. The lawyer noted that alcohol and marijuana are addictive.
“You get into the habit, and it’s a bad habit,” he told the judge. “He didn’t do it to impress anybody. He did it regularly.”
East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Morgan Johnson said Naquin and his defense team had to “stoop to the level of victim-shaming” because they are desperate.
“This is desperation,” she argued, adding that Gruver can’t defend himself against the allegations. “The defendant is on trial, not the victim.”
Johnson alleged that Naquin didn’t want Gruver in Phi Delta Theta, so he “targeted” the freshman pledge “and he ended up dead.”
A jury will be allowed to hear testimony that a former LSU student charged in the fatal 2017 alcohol-related hazing of Phi Delta Theta pledge …
She also argued that drinking in social settings such as at tailgating events or in Tigerland is “completely different” than at a hazing.
“This is unfortunately a tactic of victim-shaming at its finest,” Johnson added.
McLindon denied that accusation and said, “We didn’t generate these statements.”
He added that the jury needs to be presented the whole picture.
“Let them weigh it and decide what they think about it,” he said.
Higginbotham, however, said a 30-day period is not sufficient to demonstrate Gruver had a substance abuse habit.
Naquin, 21, of Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, faces up to five years in prison if convicted of negligent homicide.
Court documents filed previously in the case claim Naquin was warned by members of the fraternity — just days before Gruver died — to tone down his interactions with pledges. He was told his actions with pledges were extreme and dangerous, the documents allege. Higginbotham has ruled that prosecutors can use that evidence at Naquin’s trial.
A former LSU student charged with negligent homicide in the Sept. 14 alcohol-related hazing death of freshman fraternity pledge Max Gruver was…
Naquin's ex-roommate at LSU, Ryan Matthew Isto, 19, of Butte, Montana, and former LSU student Sean-Paul Gott, 22, of Lafayette, pleaded "no contest" last fall to misdemeanor hazing in the Gruver case and agreed to testify at Naquin's trial. Another ex-LSU student charged with hazing, Patrick Andrew Forde, 21, of Westwood, Massachusetts, has promised to cooperate with prosecutors and testify at the trial. Prosecutors have said they’ll decide later whether to prosecute Forde.
Phi Delta Theta has been banned from the LSU campus until at least 2033.
Two former LSU students pleaded no contest Thursday to misdemeanor hazing in the alcohol-related death of freshman fraternity pledge Max Gruve…