BATON ROUGE — Four young men pleaded not guilty on Friday to criminal charges in the drinking death of a Louisiana State University fraternity pledge.
Matthew Alexander Naquin, 20, of Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, was arraigned on a negligent homicide charge in the September 2017 death of 18-year-old Maxwell Gruver, a freshman from Roswell, Georgia. The felony charge is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Three others pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor hazing charges. Sean-Paul Gott, 21, of Lafayette, Louisiana; Ryan Isto, 19, of the Canadian town of Oakville, Ontario; and Patrick Forde, 21, of Westwood, Massachusetts, face a maximum of 30 days in jail if convicted.
State District Judge Beau Higginbotham scheduled a Sept. 6 trial for the three charged with hazing. He did not immediately set a date for Naquin.
Police originally arrested 10 people last year, but East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutors presented a grand jury with evidence of possible charges against nine of them. Ultimately, the grand jury indicted only the four defendants on March 15.
Gruver's blood-alcohol content was more than six times the legal limit for driving after a night of drinking at the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house. Fraternity members found him lying on a couch and couldn't tell if he was breathing. He died at a Baton Rouge hospital later that day. A coroner said the cause was acute alcohol intoxication, with aspiration: He had inhaled vomit and other fluid into his lungs.
Naquin's attorney, John McLindon said he believes his client is being singled out unfairly.
"The problem with alcohol on college campuses is bigger than just one person. The problem is a lot bigger than just Matthew Naquin," he said.
But witnesses said Naquin singled out Gruver during a hazing ritual involving 18 to 20 pledges, and forced him to drink more than the others the night before his death, according to a police report. Naquin targeted Gruver because he was frequently late for events and forced him to drink because he was having trouble reciting the Greek alphabet during "Bible Study," a ritual testing their fraternity knowledge, witnesses told police.
Naquin was "a main participant during the hazing event," Jeff Malone, an investigator for the district attorney's office, wrote in a court filing last month.
"LSU Police reports indicate that Naquin was the most aggressive, and in charge of the hazing incident," Malone added.
One pledge said Gruver was made to take at least 10 to 12 "pulls" of 190-proof Diesel, while other pledges had to drink less of the hard liquor, according to the police report.
All of the defendants were associated with Phi Delta Theta, but none of them is currently enrolled at LSU. Forde wasn't a student at LSU at the time. LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard said federal law bars the university from disclosing whether the others withdrew from LSU or were expelled or suspended.
Last month, Gruver's parents visited Louisiana's Capitol to testify in favor of a bill that would make hazing a felony in cases resulting in somebody's death. The maximum sentence for a felony hazing conviction would be five years in prison. The House unanimously passed the legislation, which awaits a vote in the Senate.