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Parent Wants Penalties for Hazing

State Capital Bureau

January 11, 1995

JEFFERSON CITY _ Edith Davis sat before a committee of legislators in the Capitol building and quietly cried, as she has done before a number of committees in the past year.

``They sat there and watched my child die,'' she said. ``I'm angry. I'm very angry.''

Davis' son Michael was killed in a hazing incident last Feb. 15 at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau.

The mother, still unable to discuss her son's death without tears, was testifying before the Missouri Senate Crime Committee in support of a bill to make hazing a felony if it endangers the life of the victim.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Goode, D-St. Louis County, would make hazing a class C felony, which could carry a sentence of one to seven years in jail.

But the prosecutor who handled the case said a felony hazing law is not needed because, like those involved in the Davis case, perpetrators can be convicted of other felonies.

``It would make very little difference because you have involuntary manslaughter,'' said Cape Girardeau County Prosecutor Morley Swingle. ``And in cases where the victim is not killed, you'd still have [the option of] felony assault.

``There's not much point other than it looks good to be tough on hazing,'' Swingle said. Seven of the 16 people involved in the hazing were convicted of involuntary manslaughter _ a felony.

But fraternity members who testified before the committee and a lobbyist for Associated Students of the University of Missouri said it is important to send the message that hazing is a serious crime.

``It should cut down on it [hazing] quite a bit,'' said Pat Fanning, the lobbyist for the student group at the University. Fanning said the knowledge that a hazing charge alone could carry a serious jail sentence should deter the crime.

Prosecutor Swingle said a more useful reform would be for the legislature to specify that hazing defendants cannot claim as a defense that the victim consented to the activity by joining the fraternity.

Swingle said that the primary issue on the one appeal that has been filed in the Davis case.

Of the seven defendants found guilty of manslaughter, two, Vincent King and Laimmoire Taylor, are in jail now. King is serving a sentence for involuntary manslaughter. Taylor is serving a one-year sentence for misdemeanor hazing. A jury recommended Taylor also serve a year for involuntary manslaughter, but the judge suspended the sentence.

Four others convicted in the case have served jail time ranging from 30 days to 90 days. The four also received probation and 500 hours of community service.

The remaining defendant convicted of manslaughter, Isaac Sims, is scheduled to be sentenced March 10 in St. Louis Circuit Court.

The fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, has been banned from the Southeast Missouri State campus.