Prosecutors rested their case Tuesday against a former LSU student accused in the 2017 hazing death of Phi Delta Theta pledge Max Gruver after a toxicologist testified Gruver was a “walking dead man” by the end of that ill-fated night with a blood-alcohol level more than six times the legal limit to drive in Louisiana.
An East Baton Rouge Parish jury has convicted a former LSU student and ex-Phi Delta Theta member of negligent homicide in the 2017 alcohol-rel…
Dr. Patricia Williams, an expert in the field of toxicology, told jurors at Matthew Naquin’s negligent homicide trial that Gruver’s blood-alcohol concentration of 0.495% led to “sleep, coma and death.”
“There was no way his body could get through this,” she said. “He was a dead man walking at midnight.”
Numerous prosecution witnesses testified over the last two weeks that Gruver and other Phi Delta Theta pledges were ordered to chug 190-proof alcohol — which is 95 percent alcohol — during a Sept. 13, 2017, initiation ritual called “Bible study,” if they answered questions about the fraternity incorrectly or could not recite the Greek alphabet.
Gruver, 18, of Roswell, Georgia, died the next morning from alcohol poisoning and aspiration, meaning he choked on his own vomit, East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner William “Beau” Clark testified Tuesday. An autopsy also detected THC, the chemical found in marijuana, in his system.
Several witnesses have testified that Naquin, 21, of Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, appeared to target Gruver that ill-fated night and was central to the hazing event.
Prosecutors Morgan Johnson and Adam Kwentua called more than 40 witnesses over five days.
The defense began presenting its case late Tuesday afternoon, calling to the stand Gruver’s former LSU roommate, who said Gruver had been frequenting bars, missing classes and was sober at their dormitory only five nights during the 28 days Gruver was on LSU’s campus.
James Patrick Canter, who pledged Phi Delta Theta with Gruver, said he could tell Gruver “had not had much experience with drinking.” Canter said Gruver also smoked marijuana.
Earlier Tuesday, federal agents testified Naquin deleted nearly 700 files from his cellphone during the 2017 Gruver hazing probe after learning that a search warrant had been issued for the phone.
FBI agent Michael Karaty told the jury that a state judge signed a search warrant for Naquin's phone on Nov. 8, 2017. Karaty said he called Naquin's attorney, John McLindon, the afternoon of Nov. 8, 2017, and then emailed the warrant to him at 3:16 p.m.
FBI digital forensic examiner Nikilia Stovall testified Karaty's call to McLindon began at 3:13 p.m. and lasted seven minutes. At 3:59 p.m., she said, almost 700 files were deleted from Naquin's phone.
Stovall said she doesn't know what information was deleted because the FBI could not recover the files.
East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutors have said they have no information to suggest any wrongdoing on McLindon’s part.
Naquin had been arrested in October 2017 but was not formally charged until early 2018. Naquin has since been charged with obstruction of justice in relation to the deleted phone files, but he is currently standing trial only on the negligent homicide charge.
Stovall also testified Tuesday that an examination of Naquin's phone showed that a Google search for Everclear — a grain alcohol — was performed on Aug. 24, 2017, about three weeks before Gruver's alcohol-related death.
Many of Gruver's former pledge brothers who attended the Bible study initiation have testified that Naquin and other Phi Delta Theta members instructed Gruver and other pledges to drink 190-proof Everclear that night.
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. 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 later whether to prosecute him.
Naquin faces up to five years in prison if convicted of negligent homicide.
Phi Delta Theta has been banned from LSU's campus until at least 2033 as a result of the probe into Gruver’s death.
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