Chi Tau members plead not guilty
Three months to the day after 21-year-old Matthew Carrington died from water intoxication, the eight fraternity members of Chi Tau charged in the crime pleaded not guilty.
Eight separate attorneys were in court May 2 to enter pleas on behalf of the men, who face charges for their participation in the pledge’s death.
Gabriel John Maestretti, 22, John Paul Fickes, 19, Carlos James DeVilla Abrille, 22, and Jerry Ming Lim, 25, are charged with involuntary manslaughter and misdemeanor hazing. If convicted, they would face up to four years in state prison.
Another four members are charged with violating California’s hazing law under the Education Code. Richard Joseph Hirth, 22, Rex Edward Garnett, 20, Michael Fernandes, 19, and Trent Stiefvater, 20, could face up to one year in county jail and up to a $5,000 fine.
Despite requests by several defense attorneys to postpone a preliminary hearing to a later date, Butte County Superior Court Judge Stephen Benson ordered the hearing set for May 13.
Benson also overruled a motion by defense attorneys Dennis Latimer and Kevin Sears to lock the media from the courtroom. Both attorneys argued that misinformation in the press, specifically in a Los Angeles Times article published in March, would hinder their clients’ right to a fair trial.
Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey requested that the pretrial hearing also be set for May 13. Ramsey said one witness, whom he refused to reveal at this time, will be out of the country in August and might not be available when the trial begins.
“I want to give attorneys a chance to cross-examine [the witness],” Ramsey said.
After Monday’s arraignment Debbie Smith, mother of Matthew Carrington, said she was pleased that the judge kept things moving forward. She and other family members will again make the trek from the Bay Area for next week’s preliminary hearing, she added.
“That will be a big day,” Smith said. “That will be a tough one to sit through.”
As family members wait for the judicial process to move forward, the university continues with its review of the Greek system. Last week, a special Greek Life task force held an open forum, inviting members of the community to offer opinions on how to improve local fraternities and sororities.
Six task forces have been created to concentrate on specific areas, including hazing, alcohol abuse and personal safety in campus neighborhoods.
Jim Moon, vice president of student affairs, said the university has looked at more than 80 comments, most of which came after Carrington’s death on Feb. 2 during a water hazing ritual at the Chi Tau fraternity.
Approximately 15 community members and students spoke out at the forum, held at the Bell Memorial Union auditorium on April 27.
Many agreed that alcohol abuse goes beyond fraternities and sororities and that the university needs to take a more proactive role by appointing advisers and mentors to work within the Greek community.
Charlie Preusser, a former member of Tau Gamma Theta, lambasted the university for failing to become more involved in the Greek community. Preusser pointed out that, while the Interfraternity Council did create dry events, the concept backfired because students began to binge-drink during “pre-parties.”
Several members of the Greek community also spoke, pointing out the philanthropic activities that they’ve performed over the course of the semester.
This week, members of Sigma Chi held its LIFE+SAVERS campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of alcohol abuse among students. The fraternity sold bracelets and T-shirts, with the proceeds going toward local community-service projects. Sigma Chi member Aaron O’Brien said he hopes the group can raise enough money to eventually get a Greek Life Foundation up and running.
At last week’s Greek Life forum, former IFC president Nick Miller said it was during his time in a fraternity that he learned about ethics and philanthropy. He said alcohol-abuse problems go beyond Chico’s Greek system.
“You can’t point fingers,” Miller said. “You just need to take the next step and fix the problem.”