What goes on in secret fraternal rituals? We’ll soon find out when three Betas stand trial
If Chico has learned anything in the years since Matthew Carrington took his last breath in a cold, wet basement of a trashed fraternity house, it’s probably that hazing is never going away.
Initiation rituals of local fraternal organizations live on despite Chico State’s massive education campaign in response to the vibrant young man’s tragic end, and even a new law named in his honor.
Busted last spring for hazing, Chico’s Beta Theta Pi fraternity has been stripped of its national charter and university affiliation, and its stately but rundown East Third Street residence, about seven blocks from the house where Carrington died, stands vacant, recently sold to the highest bidder.
News of Chico’s latest hazing investigation has been a blow to Carrington’s mother, Debbie Smith, a Bay Area resident who worked tirelessly after her son’s death in February 2005 to produce Matt’s Law, a California statute making dangerous hazing activities criminal offenses. For others, including Dr. Susan Lipkins, a New York-based psychologist and hazing expert who keeps a close watch on newspaper headlines, reading about the recent Chico case and others she logs on her Web site, Insidehazing.com, is a source of frustration.
“You always feel like banging your head on the wall and saying, ‘When will they get it?’ “ said Lipkins, who is well versed in Chico’s hazing history.
A pledge at the time of his death, the healthy, 21-year-old Carrington succumbed to the effects of an initiation ritual requiring him to drink copious amounts of water and exercise to the point of exhaustion in hypothermic conditions. As Lipkins noted, the bizarre hazing rite and its outcome led to exposure from national media outlets, and to Chico State President Paul Zingg’s threat to dispense with the entire Greek system.
Still, on Monday (Dec. 17), a Butte County Superior Court judge ruled that three members of Beta Theta Pi stand trial for their participation in initiation activities allegedly involving dangerous hazing.
Approved by the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last year, Matt’s Law will cut its teeth on the case.
Of course, defense attorneys for the three defendants, Chico State students Christopher D. Bizot and Michael F. Murphy and Butte College student Matthew W. Krupp, say the initiation activities of ice baths and strenuous calisthenics were harmless high jinks, and thus a poor test case under Matt’s Law.
The law defines hazing as “any method of initiation … which is likely to cause serious bodily injury.” However, Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey confirmed that one of the members originally charged in the death of Carrington had himself sought treatment at the university’s Student Health Center in 2004 after taking part in a similar hazing ritual involving being submerged waist down in a kiddie pool filled with ice water.
During the pretrial conference Monday, defense counselors William Mayo, Michael Erpino and Dane Cameron attempted to have the misdemeanor charges dismissed based on affidavits signed by 13 pledges attesting they were unharmed by the acts and had accepted a civil compromise of $1 each from the defendants. Moreover, the university already has punished both Chico State students, who agreed to forfeit their tuition and grades for a semester.
“I think that what these guys have been through is very sufficient to deter this type of behavior in the future,” said Erpino, later noting that his client, Murphy, had earned all A’s for the semester he forfeited.
Deputy District Attorney Michael Sanderson countered that victims in this type of crime are under a tremendous amount of peer pressure. Lipkins, author of a hazing-prevention book, backed his argument, telling the CN&R she’s again and again seen cases in which the victims, fearing retribution, including ostracization, keep silent.
Typically, shielded within protective walls of their homes, only members and pledges of the organizations know exactly what happens during ceremonies that have been carried on year after year, by class after class, for decades in many cases.
As of now, few details about the initiation ceremony have been released. Defense attorneys plan to challenge Superior Court Judge Tamara Mosbarger’s ruling to put their clients’ antics on public display. In addition to setting a trial date for April 14, the judge ordered the defendants be present during future proceedings.