Weak, Misdirected Indictments
The Tech is concerned about the recent indictments in the case surrounding the death of Scott S. Krueger '01. We believe the conclusions reached by the office of the Suffolk County District Attorney are weak and unprecedented.
Yesterday's indictments, unsealed by Suffolk County District Attorney Ralph C. Martin II, charge MIT's chapter of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity with manslaughter and hazing in Krueger's death. No individual members of Fiji were indicted, nor were the national fraternity and the Malcolm Cotton Brown Corporation, the alumni organization that owns the fraternity's house at 28 The Fenway.
The District Attorney's office defined the chapter as those who lived at the fraternity at the time of the incident. The office argues that while no individual member committed a wanton and reckless act deserving of a manslaughter indictment, the residents of Fiji acting as a body did commit such an act. It drew from common law as the basis for indicting an unincorporated group.
This is an unorthodox interpretation of the law, and one to which we have several objections. In essence, Martin is trying to forcibly incorporate an unorganized group of people. But in public statements Thursday, the district attorney never fully clarified who exactly belonged to the group he was charging. Martin's office, which later defined the members of the group as described here, has in that definition included the other Fiji pledges as members of the indicted group. It is unlikely that the other pledges would have any criminal responsibility in this affair.
The move to indict the fraternity members as a group was probably motivated by a desire to issue indictments without having to point to specific people as culpable. The publicity and moral posturing surrounding this case pressured the district attorney to appear forceful. The Tech believes that justice was not served by this politically expedient decision.
If the grand jury failed to find sufficient evidence for indictments, then no indictments should have been issued. The current indictments assign culpability to all of Fiji's residents; this is unfair to those who had no association with, or responsibility for, Krueger's death. These indictments raise the question of whether Martin merely took this course to satisfy the public's appetite for a criminal indictment.
Conversely, if sufficient evidence was supplied to the grand jury to warrant an indictment for manslaughter, then justice demands the specific persons responsible for this crime be summoned to face the charge of manslaughter. As 353 days have elapsed between Krueger's death and the unsealing of the indictments, there has been plenty of time to research and investigate the roles specific individuals played in Krueger's death. It is very likely that the fatal pledge party was planned and directed by certain individuals, with many members of the house having at most an inconsequential role in its organization and execution. Justice dictates that if there was significant evidence, the district attorney and the grand jury hold accountable those culpable for their criminal actions, while clearing those with no responsibility in Krueger's death.
The decision not to indict individuals, if the evidence supported such indictments, also robs the Krueger family and the general public of justice as well. No one will be sent to jail on manslaughter charges in this affair; no one will be held personally responsible. Instead, a faceless organization, one that cannot be sent to jail and faces a maximum fine of $4,000, will face trial.
The district attorney's office had two valid options in issuing indictments. If the evidence was too tenuous to support charges of manslaughter against any individuals, then no indictments should have been handed down. If there was enough evidence, then the individuals directly responsible for Krueger's death should have been charged. This decision attempts to straddle the fence. Martin has failed to confront this difficult choice and has deprived the Kruegers, the Institute, and his Suffolk County constituents of justice in this case.