The former Louisiana State University student who was found guilty of negligent homicide for the hazing death of 18-year-old Phi Delta Theta pledge Max Gruver was sentenced to five years in prison on Wednesday.
Jurors reportedly took just one hour to convict Matthew Naquin in July. The 21-year-old Texas native was also sentenced to three years of probation and 1,000 hours of community service. The judge ordered Naquin to write a letter of apology to the Gruver family, and for every year he is on probation he must go to three separate high schools and give a one-hour talk about hazing, according to WVLA-TV.
He was expelled from LSU in the weeks following Gruver’s death.
Gruver died of alcohol poisoning and aspiration—choking on his own vomit—after a hazing ritual called “Bible Study” at the fraternity house on Sept. 13, 2017. During the ritual, prosecutors said Naquin and other fraternity members ordered pledges to stand in a dark hallway facing a wall while loud music played; they were told to chug 190-proof liquor if they could not correctly answer questions about Phi Delta Theta, The Advocate reported.
Witnesses reportedly testified during the trial that Naquin, whom authorities have said was a ringleader of the hazing ritual, targeted Gruver that night because he didn’t want him to join the fraternity. Just two days before Gruver’s death, fraternity brothers said they warned Naquin to tone down his extreme and dangerous interactions with pledges, according to court documents and testimony during the trial.
When he died, Gruver’s blood-alcohol level was 0.495 percent—more than six times the state’s legal limit to drive, according to the local newspaper. Another pledge had testified during trial that he believed Gruver “had not had much experience with drinking.” A toxicology expert said on the stand that Gruver’s high blood-alcohol concentration led to “sleep, coma and death.”
“There was no way his body could get through this,” said the expert, Patricia Williams. “He was a dead man walking at midnight.”
Naquin’s attorney, John McLindon, argued during the trial that he was unfairly singled out by the prosecution and that Gruver continued to drink on his own after the hazing event.
“It was a hazing event, but there were probably 10 other active members up there that night and at least five of them were handing out alcohol,” McLindon told The New York Times. “Matthew didn’t do anything differently from those boys, but he got picked out because he is very loud.”
But East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III countered, in a separate interview with The Times, that Naquin “stood out” through the ferocity with which he tormented pledges that night.
“Everyone kept saying he was the one who led everything, who made people drink more, who asked questions,” Moore said. “This is grain alcohol—this is 180-proof or 190-proof alcohol. It is what they put tissue samples in to study them in a lab, when you have to wear a hood.”
Moore added: “We have never alleged that the defendant wanted him dead or wanted to kill him, but his actions led to this young man’s death.”
Naquin has been separately charged with obstruction of justice after federal agents say he deleted nearly 700 files from his phone minutes after he learned from his attorney that a search warrant had been issued for his device. The FBI never successfully recovered the files. He has not been tried yet on that charge.
After the trial, Max’s mother, Rae Ann Gruver, called the guilty verdict “justice for our son and for the man who caused his death.” Gruver was from Roswell, a suburb of Atlanta.
“We want this to send a message to the country that hazing should not exist,” Stephen Gruver, Max's father, told The Advocate after the conviction. “It’s dangerous and we have to all work together to bring an end to hazing.”
Three other fraternity brothers face misdemeanor hazing charges in the case, two of which have pleaded no contest. Phi Delta Theta has been banned from LSU’s campus until 2033. The school also reportedly convened a task force to study Greek life on campus in the aftermath of Gruver’s death.
“Hazing is an irresponsible and dangerous activity that we do not tolerate at LSU,” a spokesman for the school said after the trial. “These tragedies, and the penalties that follow, can be prevented, and we have been working diligently to put more safeguards, education and reporting outlets in place for our students regarding hazing.”