BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - During opening arguments on Tuesday, July 9, attorney, John McLindon, attempted to cast doubt on the state prosecutor’s theory that Phi Delta Theta member, Matthew Naquin, forced pledge, Max Gruver, to drink a dangerous amount of alcohol.
“Max Gruver died, but nobody killed him,” McLindon said. “Max was not forced to drink. He drank virtually every day.”
A number of former fraternity members testified, some in exchange for lighter sentences or immunity for their connection to Gruver’s death. In addition, a district attorney’s investigator and an LSU administrator testified.
Gruver, an LSU freshman, died in the fall of 2017 after a night of drinking at the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house. The state alleges the fraternity actives were hazing some 20 pledges in a game called “Bible Study,” in which pledges were made to drink grain alcohol if they incorrectly answered questions about fraternity history.
Gruver was pronounced dead at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of six times the legal limit to drive. But McLindon argued pledges were not forced to do anything, noting Naquin did not organize the event or supply alcohol.
“You didn’t have to drink,” he said, adding at least one pledge left without repercussion.
Fraternity members said the event was “important, but not mandatory," and told the state they wanted to participate so they could “fit in.”
“I didn’t want to be the person that was left out,” one member said.
McLindon conceded that Matthew Naquin was the “loudest person there” and “acting like a drill sergeant,” but said, “being loud does not equate to criminal conduct.”
The state argued that 2017 was Naquin’s “first opportunity to haze" because of his new status as an active member. It made repeated reference to an incident where Naquin shot at pledges on the parade grounds with an Airsoft gun, which can leave welts on the skin that feel like a bee sting.
At one point, Naquin’s behavior was addressed by fraternity leadership. The state said those members even considered kicking Naquin out.
“Unfortunately, they didn’t do it soon enough,” Assistant District Attorney Morgan Johnson said. She told the six-person jury and two alternates all 20 pledges will testify Naquin’s behavior was “over the top.”
But McLindon said two other fraternity members will testify that they saw Gruver drink from a bottle of grain alcohol left behind after the hazing event concluded. He attacked the fraternity itself and asked why it was not also indicted.
One fraternity member testified he only saw the “house mom,” an adult meant to supervise fraternity activities, one time before Gruver died.
"When a young man dies, society wants to blame somebody.
“It’s almost human nature,” McLindon said. “In this case, they pinned it on the loudest guy.”
The case could take as many as ten days to conclude. Six jurors will decide whether to convict Naquin of negligent homicide, beyond the shadow of a doubt.