WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Jurors heard closing arguments and began deliberations Thursday in a lawsuit filed against members of a University of Delaware fraternity by the parents of a pledge who died of alcohol poisoning in 2008.
Jurors in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of Brett Griffin, 18, of Kendall Park, N.J., deliberated for about 90 minutes Thursday before going home. They were to resume deliberations Friday morning.
Doug Fierberg, an attorney representing Tim and Julie Griffin, argued that their son’s death was the result of illegal hazing that included forcing pledges to eat and drink substances that made them vomit and concluded with an alcohol-soaked party the fraternity was prohibited from having because of a previous alcohol violation.
Fierberg urged jurors to hold Jason Matthew Aaron, the former president of Delta Lambda chapter of Sigma Alpha Mu, and former chapter pledge master Matthew Siracusa liable for Griffin’s death.
Aaron and Siracusa have denied any wrongdoing and said they are not responsible for Griffin’s death. The fraternity and other members, including Griffin’s “big brother,” previously reached settlements in the case, leaving Aaron and Siracusa as the only remaining defendants.
Aaron’s lawyer has said that no one forced Griffin to drink that night, and that Griffin was the one who chose to do it. Siracusa’s lawyer has noted that his client wasn’t present for most of the party, and that drinking is endemic on college campuses.
In his closing argument Thursday, Fierberg reminded jurors of “lineups” in which Griffin and other pledges were humiliated in the basement of the fraternity house while loud music played and lookouts were posted to ensure that police and university officials did not discover what was going on.
Fierberg also reminded jurors that shortly before Griffin died, he told a friend in a text message that he was going “mentally insane” because of pledging.
Both Aaron and Siracusa testified that fraternity members knew when planning the party to celebrate the introduction of Griffin and other pledges to their “big brothers” that the fraternity was banned from having social events because of a previous violation of university rules regarding alcohol during fraternity rush.
But Aaron and Siracusa said they did not participate in any alleged hazing of Griffin.
According to testimony, Griffin consumed what amounted to at least an entire bottle of Southern Comfort before passing out in an upstairs room alongside other pledges in drunken stupors.
Siracusa testified that he wasn’t at the party and instead spent the night with friends at a nearby bar.
Aaron attended the party but said he never saw Griffin in any distress, even though the chapter vice president had texted Griffin’s big brother, Michael Bassett, just before midnight indicating that Griffin and other pledges were “all dead right now.”
Fierberg noted that fraternity members waited nine minutes to call 911 after another brother informed Bassett that Griffin, who had been propped on his side on a couch with a bucket or trash can in which to vomit, was “foaming out of his mouth.”
Griffin was pronounced dead less than an hour later. According to court records, he had a blood-alcohol level of .341 when he died, more than four times the threshold for drunken driving.
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