EAST LANSING — Nearly two and a half years after a Michigan State University student died during a fraternity party, nine people face criminal charges and more than a dozen have been sued in civil court.
On Thursday, in a courtroom about a mile from were Phat Nguyen died, the three other members of his Pi Alpha Phi pledge class taught for hours about the pledge process, the “crossover” party after which they had to be taken to the hospital for alcohol poisoning and whether they were forced to drink excessively that night.
When testimony ended — completing a preliminary hearing that started in January — the prosecution asked District Court Judge Molly Greenwalt to send the case against 24-year-old Ethan Cao to Circuit Court for trial.
Cao faces three misdemeanor charges for hazing, but the most serious charge, and the reason for the extensive testimony, is hazing resulting in death. The felony charge carries a maximum sentence of up to 15 years in prison.
All nine of the defendants in Ingham County were charged in connection with Nguyen’s death face the hazing resulting in death charge. Those are likely the first criminal cases in state history to include that charge.
More: Seven more people charged in 2021 death during frat party in East Lansing
As of Feb. 5, the State Court Administrative Office said its data that goes back decades shows only nine cases involving the hazing resulting in death charges.
Edwar Zeineh, Cao’s Lansing-based defense attorney, made clear from the opening moments of the preliminary hearing that he’d be challenging not only whether his client was culpable, but whether the felony charge was constitutional.
As Thursday’s hearing headed toward its conclusion, Greenwalt gave his first indication that Zenieh’s strategy might have worked. Instead of ruling on whether