UPDATED 01.27.09 4:36 p.m
Two Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity brothers sent to prison for hazing were back in court Tuesday, nearly three years after their arrest.
Their convictions were overturned on appeal last year, and today Jason Harris and Michael Morton entered pleas in hopes of moving on with their lives.
Michael Morton and Jason Harris have spent the past two years in prison, set free only after an appeals court overturned their convictions.
Tuesday, they both plead no contest to felony hazing and were sentenced to time served.
As part of that same plea deal, adjudication was withheld, meaning Morton and Harris will not have felonies on their record.
Brian Tannebaum, Jason Harris's Attorney
"Any time in prison is a tragedy for someone who's a college student who's never been in trouble before and he can never get that time back, but at least he can move on with his life, at least he can move on without being a convicted felon," said Harris's attorney Brian Tannebaum after the hearing.
Harris and Morton were among those arrested back in 2006 for beating Kappa pledge Marcus Jones so badly that he required stitches and surgery. Jones was not anxious to relive the incident in court again.
"He thinks obviously with the two individuals having already served prison time, that that was sufficient," said Jones's family attorney Dawn Whitehurst.
Neither man wanted to talk on camera about the plea deal or the two years they've spent behind bars. Their attorneys say they are anxious to put this behind them, and they hope fraternity members everywhere will learn from their experience.
"This is a wake up call, you know, they created this law and the law is there for a reason to protect people and we have to abide by the law," said Morton's attorney, Don Pumphrey, Jr.
A civil suit against Harris, Morton and three other fraternity brothers is still pending as Jones tries to recoup damages for medical bills and more.
Updated 1:54 p.m. (1/27)
Press Release from the Law Offices of Don Pumphrey Jr.:
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (January 27, 2009) -- The FAMU hazing case is finally over after more than 3 years. Defendants Michael Morton and Jason Harris have reached a plea deal with the state, but not before facing two trials, two years in prison, and one successful appeal.
Attorneys Don Pumphrey, Jr. and Brian Tannebaum worked with district attorney Frank Allman to reach an agreement. Morton and Harris have agreed to a withhold of adjudication and time served.
"Today is a great day for Michael. Hey is a hard-working and intelligent man, and now he has his future back," said Pumphrey. "This case has faced many challenges, including jury tampering and extensive negative media attention. This resolution is best for everyone."
Brian Tannebaum, Jason Harris’ lawyer said “Jason Harris is a true gentleman with a bright future, who now has his life back and unlimited opportunities to be an outstanding member of society.”
Defendant Morton is relieved to move on with his life. He is recently got married and is the proud father of a 19-month-old little girl.
"This has been such a long and difficult process for my family and me," said Morton. "I missed the first year of my daughter’s life, and I just thank God that we can finally move forward."
In 2006, Morton, Harris and four other defendants were charged with third-degree felony hazing. The first trial ended in a hung jury. The second trial ended with Morton and Harris being found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison and three years on probation. Morton and Harris have already served their two-year prison sentence.
On Friday, August 8, 2008, the appellate court overturned the guilty verdict and sent the matter back to the trial courts. The disputing factor in the case is the term "serious bodily injury." The appellate court found fault with Circuit Judge Kathleen Dekker telling jurors that they had to decide whether Jones' injuries were serious or slight, without giving them an option of finding Jones’ injuries to be moderate.
The victim, Marcus Jones, suffered bruised buttocks and had minor surgery to reduce swelling.
Morton plans to speak nationally to Greek societies and other organizations. He knows hazing is wrong, and he hopes to fight against the underlying acceptance passed down by older members and alumni.
"People need to know that hazing has consequences," said Morton. "Look at me. I was student senate president and a straight-A student. And I wound up in prison for two years for a stupid tradition."
Michael Morton and Jason Harris entered no contest pleas this morning to felony hazing. Adjudication was withheld. That means neither of the men will have felony convictions on their records.
The plea comes nearly three years after the men were arrested following the severe beating of a fraternity pledge at FAMU.
Marcus Jones had to have stitches and surgery for his injuries.
Both Morton and Harris were convicted of hazing and spent two years in prison before their convictions were overturned on appeal.
This morning, the men entered no contest pleas to hazing and the judge sentenced them to time served.
A civil suit is still pending.