Defense lawyers for a former LSU student charged in the hazing-related death of Maxwell Gruver can raise at trial Gruver's alleged heavy drinking and marijuana use in the month prior to his death, Louisiana's high court ruled Saturday.

Matthew Naquin, 21, of Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, was charged with negligent homicide after Gruver died in September 2017 of alcohol poisoning in what authorities have described as a hazing ritual while pledging the Phi Delta Theta fraternity.

Naquin's defense team, citing statements from then-fraternity members, alleged in a court filing earlier this year that Gruver drank excessively and smoked marijuana in the weeks leading up to his death.

They asked that they be allowed to present evidence of Gruver's alleged substance abuse at Naquin's trial, which is set to begin with jury selection on Monday.

A state appeals court ruled last week that the allegations could be used by Naquin’s lawyers insofar as they pertained to alleged substance abuse on the date of his death. But the appellate court said any evidence relating to Gruver's alcohol use in the days and weeks leading up to his death would not be admissible.

Naquin's lawyer, John McLindon, appealed the decision to the Louisiana Supreme Court, which on Saturday ruled in the defense's favor on the issue. 

Prosecutors and Gruver’s parents have called the defense's attempts to introduce allegations about his previous alcohol use victim-shaming.

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said he is respectful of the Court’s decision but disagrees with it.

“Any allegations about Max’s use of alcohol over a thirty-day period when he was an 18-year-old incoming freshman, away from home, pledging a fraternity are irrelevant to what happened to Max Gruver on the night/morning when he was being hazed which lead to his death,” Moore said.

“We are prepared to proceed to trial and look forward to presenting our case and carrying our burden of proof,” he added.

McLindon preferred not to comment when contacted by The Advocate on Saturday.

Attempts to reach the Gruver family for comment on the Supreme Court decision Saturday evening were unsuccessful.

Staff writer Joe Gyan Jr. contributed to this report.

Editor's note: This article was changed on Sunday, July 7, 2019, to note that allegations about Maxwell Gruver's alleged excessive drinking came in court filings by Matthew Naquin's defense team.


Email Jacqueline DeRobertis at jderobertis@theadvocate.com