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Bogenberger family unsure of potential NIU hazing plea deals

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014 9:27 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014 9:42 p.m. CDT
All 22 people accused of playing a role in the November 2012 death of a Northern Illinois University freshman could enter plea agreements Oct. 2, a defense attorney said.

SYCAMORE – The parents of a Northern Illinois University freshman who died in a fraternity house almost two years ago are unsure whether they will come to court if the 22 men accused of hazing ultimately accept plea agreements.

Attorney Peter Coladarci, who represents the family of David Bogenberger, said his clients have not yet learned enough about the potential plea agreements to determine if they support them. If plea agreements that the family supports ultimately are entered, Bogenberger's family may travel from Florida to attend the court dates.

"They may not want to appear to endorse it if they are uncomfortable with the terms," Coladarci said.

Bogenberger, a 19-year-old Palatine High School graduate, died at the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house with a blood-alcohol content of 0.351 percent after an unsanctioned party at which fraternity members and other guests ordered the pledges to drink vodka, authorities have said. Bogenberger and 18 other pledges drank alcohol for about two hours while playing a game in which they were assigned "moms" and "dads" whose indentities they were supposed to guess, authorities have said.

Five fraternity members face felony hazing charges in connection with the November 2012 death, while 17 others face misdemeanor hazing charges.

Defense attorney Peter Gruber, who represents former Pi Kappa Alpha chapter secretary Patrick W. Merrill, 21, now of Boston, said attorneys are trying to arrange for all 22 criminal cases to be resolved on the same day. Gruber, defense attorney Mike Krejci, and DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack declined to provide details of the proposed plea agreements.

In May, DeKalb County Judge John McAdams rejected claims that the Illinois hazing statute is unconstitutional in four of the five felony cases. 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 felony hazing, which is punishable with probation or up to three years in prison, are: Merrill; former pledge adviser Omar Salameh, 23, of DeKalb; former fraternity president Alexander M. Jandick, 23, of Naperville; former vice president James P. Harvey, 22, of Northfield; and Steven A. Libert, 22, of Naperville.

Meanwhile, Bogenberger's family is suing the 22 men, plus 15 to 20 women who allegedly participated in the nonsanctioned party, in Cook County court, alleging wrongful death and seeking damages for pain and suffering. The family also is suing NIU in the Illinois Court of Claims alleging school officials did not properly oversee the fraternity's activities. The Illinois Court of Claims is a special court that handles some lawsuits against the state.

Resolving the criminal cases will allow Bogenberger's family to move forward with the civil case, as Coladarci is unable to talk with the people allegedly involved with the party so long as they can assert their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the criminal case. Attorneys won't move forward with the lawsuit involving NIU until the Cook County lawsuit is resolved, Coladarci said.

"We're pleased that it appears these young men are going to accept responsibility for what happened," Coladarci said. "... There's nothing that would bring David back. It's painful."

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