Plea deal made in hazing death of Louisiana State University student

Published 1:53 pm Thursday, September 6, 2018

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Two young men pleaded no contest Thursday to misdemeanor hazing in the drinking death of a Louisiana State University fraternity pledge whose blood alcohol level was more than six times the legal limit for driving.

Sean-Paul Gott, 22, of Lafayette, and Ryan Matthew Isto, 19, of Butte, Montana, weren’t immediately sentenced for their roles in the September 2017 death of 18-year-old Maxwell Gruver.

The Advocate reports the no contest pleas from the two former LSU students carry the same weight as a guilty plea in criminal court, but can’t be used against the men in civil proceedings.

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Gott and Isto have agreed to testify in the upcoming trial against Matthew Alexander Naquin, 20, of Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, who is charged with negligent homicide in Gruver’s death, a felony charge punishable by up to five years in prison. News outlets say Gott and Isto will be sentenced after the trial is complete.

Gruver, a freshman from Roswell, Georgia, died a year ago 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.

Gruver’s death spurred Louisiana lawmakers to rewrite the state’s hazing laws, to toughen penalties, require schools to teach students about hazing and levy fines on organizations that knowingly allow hazing. One of the measures was named the Max Gruver Act, and Gruver’s parents personally lobbied lawmakers for its passage.

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’s attorney, John McLindon, has said he believes his client is being singled out unfairly.

Also charged with misdemeanor hazing in the case is Patrick Andrew Forde, 21, of Westwood, Massachusetts.

Phi Delta Theta has been banned from the LSU campus until at least 2033.

Gruver’s family is suing the university and the fraternity, as well as Naquin, Gott, Isto, Forde and others, for $25 million in damages.