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Crime & Courts

NIU hazing defendants: How did we cause death?

SYCAMORE – Attorneys for four former fraternity members accused of hazing want prosecutors to tell them what, specifically, they did to cause the death of a 19-year-old Northern Illinois University freshman in November 2012.

Defense attorneys are claiming that the evidence they have reviewed indicates their clients played no role in the death of Pi Kappa Alpha pledge David Bogenberger. Bogenberger, a Palatine High School graduate, died at the fraternity house with a blood-alcohol level of 0.351 percent after a non-sanctioned party in which fraternity members and other guests ordered the pledges to drink vodka, authorities said.

"If the state cannot provide that [detail on the alleged wrongdoing,] then we'll have problems," said defense attorney Jack Donahue.

DeKalb County Assistant State's Attorney Julie Visher told Judge John McAdams she could answer answer those questions by July 10, the next court date.

On Thursday, McAdams rejected the former fraternity members' claims that the Illinois hazing statute is unconstitutional. They can only appeal his decision if they ultimately are convicted of a crime.

Illinois’ hazing law prohibits people from requiring students to perform any unauthorized act that results in bodily harm in order to be accepted in a group connected with a school.

Charged with a felony punishable with probation or up to three years in prison are: former fraternity president Alex Jandick, 22, of Naperville; former vice president James P. Harvey, 22, of Northfield; former secretary Patrick W. Merrill, 21, of DeKalb; former pledge adviser Omar Salameh, 23, of Burbank, and Steven Libert, 22, of Naperville.

Libert's case is pending before Judge Robbin Stuckert; he's next due in court Tuesday. He also filed a motion questioning the law's constitutionality but waited to pursue it until McAdams ruled.

The defendants had claimed the state's hazing statute does not make it clear what behaviors are illegal, thus giving police too much discretion in charging people with hazing. They took issue with the phrase "an act," emphasizing that other states' laws mention reckless acts or acts likely to cause harm.

But McAdams ruled that other elements of the charge – that it be an unauthorized act that causes bodily harm – give police and potential defendants a clear enough picture of what constitutes hazing.

Defense attorneys also raised concerns Thursday that some media outlets have aired crime scene photographs and parts of police reports related to the incident. They claimed that potential jurors could form unfair conclusions about the case.

"We can't even give police reports to our clients," said Donahue, who represents Jandick. "But there are other people who have access to those documents."

Visher assured Adams she did not provide the media with those materials. Adams reminded attorneys for both sides which Illinois Supreme Court rules apply to the case.

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