The Major Case Squad’s fifteenth case was one unlike any it investigated before or since. Michael A. Davis, 25, a fraternity pledge at Southeast Missouri State University, died from injuries received during a college fraternity initiation ritual. The accidental killing and the subsequent attempt by the fraternity members to cover it up proved to be a difficult matter to investigate.
After a large expenditure of manpower and time and effort, the Major Case Squad solved the unusual homicide. Seven of the fraternity members wound up being charged with felony involuntary manslaughter and misdemeanor hazing. An additional eight fraternity members were charged with misdemeanor hazing.
The story proved to be one of unfulfilled youthful dreams and tragic recklessness.
Between the dates of February 6, 1994 and February 15, 1994, the members of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity knowingly participated in hazing directed against five pledges of the fraternity -- Michael Davis, Tabari Wayne, Pierre Williams, John Davis, and Cortez Vaughn. The hazing consisted of physical beatings that included slapping on the neck; slapping on the back; kicking; hitting and punching on the chest and arms; and something called "body-slamming," where the pledge would be picked up and physically thrown to the ground. These beatings recklessly endangered the physical health of these pledges and were done for the purpose of their initiation into the fraternity.
One of the pledges -- Michael A. Davis -- was killed as a result of the last beating. He suffered broken ribs, a lacerated kidney, a lacerated liver, and bruises all over his chest, neck, back, and arms. He died of internal bleeding in his brain. The other four pledges were all badly bruised and sore from the beatings they received.
Ironically, Michael A. Davis was pledging the fraternity because he had heard that the connections he would make with his fraternity brothers would help him later in life, and because someone had told him that having the fraternity membership on his resume would help him get a job in his chosen field – journalism. His dream was to be involved in the production of a show like Dateline or 60 Minutes.
Kappa Alpha Psi was a fraternity operating under the sanction of Southeast Missouri State University in February of 1994. The fraternity had about a dozen members.
In February of 1994, it was time for them to begin the process of recruiting and initiating new members.
In late December, right before Christmas break, the fraternity held a meeting where they'd invited about fifteen potential pledges to begin the process of finding new members. By early February, they had narrowed the number of recruits down to the final five.
The five pledges for this February 1994 pledge class were: Michael Davis, Tabari Wayne, Pierre Williams, John Davis and Cortez Vaughn.
In early February the fraternity met to elect a "Dean" of the pledge class. This was the person in charge of the hazing -- who called the sessions and determined how long they would last and what was to go on. He was in charge of planning the physical hazing, and was also to make sure it didn't get so rough that somebody got seriously injured.
Two members of the fraternity ran for the position of Dean of the pledge class. Cedric Murphy and Keith Allen. Cedric Murphy won.
Shortly afterward, on Sunday, February 6, 1994, the first meeting was held for the pledges. It occurred at the apartment of the Fraternity President, Laimmoire Taylor, on Aspen Street in Cape Girardeau. Most of the fraternity members were present. No physical hazing occurred that day. Instead, the pledges were brought into a room, one at a time, and had a red light shined on them while they were asked questions.
The first session where physical hazing occurred was the next night, Monday, February 7, 1994. This session was at Larry Blue's apartment on Park Street in Cape Girardeau. At this meeting, the pledges were put "on line," which meant they were given assigned numbers, based upon their height, and were always to stand in that same order. They stood shoulder to shoulder, facing the same way. One at a time, they were called out and given samples of what was calling "giving neck", "giving back" and "giving chest." Several different fraternity members were involved in doing the hitting. They went through the line two full times, with each pledge being struck, and then started the third time through. When they got to the last pledge, Cortez Vaughn, a star football player, he said he wasn't going to put up with it any more -- that he was quitting. They tried to talk him out of it, but that was the end of that night's session. No one was fatally injured that night.
The next session was the very next night -- Tuesday, February 8, 1994. It was at the apartment of Fraternity President Laimmoire Taylor. This time, there were only the four remaining pledges. Once again, the pledges were given "neck," "back" and "chest." They were supplied with things they were supposed to memorize and recite. Several different fraternity members were involved in the hitting. No one was fatally injured that night.
The next session was the next night, Wednesday, February 9, 1994. It was also at Laimmoire Taylor's apartment. Several fraternity members were present doing the hitting. This time, the hitting included being hit with hands, fists, kicks, and being struck with books. Once again, no fatal blows were thrown that night.
The next session was on Thursday, February 10, 1994, again at Laimmoire Taylor's apartment. Several fraternity members were present doing the hitting. Besides the regular hitting, Cedric Murphy, the "Dean" of the pledge class, hit the pledges with a cane on the bottoms of their bare feet. Once again, no fatal blows were delivered that night.
Pledge John Davis, another football player, dropped out after that night, leaving just Michael Davis, Tabari Wayne and Pierre Williams.
No pledge session was held on Friday, February 11th.
On Saturday, February 12, 1994, pledge Michael Davis drove to St. Louis with President Laimmoire Taylor and fellow pledge Pierre Williams. They dropped Laimmoire Taylor off to get his car from a body shop. Then Michael went to visit his family and get some money he needed for fraternity fees. He and Pierre then came back down to Cape Girardeau.
That night, Saturday, February 12, 1994, another hazing session was held from 7:00 to 9:00 at the apartment of Carlos Turner on Themis Street in Cape Girardeau. This session involved the three pledges being hit not only by local fraternity members, but also by alumni from out of town.
There was no pledge session on Sunday, February 13, 1994.
What turned out to be the final and fatal pledge session occurred on Monday, February 14, 1994. Cedric Murphy, the Dean of the pledges, took the three pledges to a secluded grassy field located near the Southeast Missouri State University track around Midnight. Several other fraternity members met them there. The pledges went through the process of getting hit on the neck, back and chest. After a while, at the order of Cedric Murphy, the fraternity members assumed seven or eight "stations." At each station, a fraternity member would inflict some type of abuse to the pledge. The pledges, in single file, (in order of Michael Davis, Tabari Wayne, Pierre Williams) had to run from station to station. At Keith Allen's station, he gave them beer when they arrived. At Laimmoire Taylor's station, he hit and pushed and verbally abused them. At the stations of Vincent L. King and Mikel J. Giles they were "body-slammed" by being picked up and thrown to the ground. At the stations of Michael Q. Williams, Isaac Simms, Carlos Turner and Cedric Murphy they were punched or hit or kicked.
For approximately thirty minutes, the pledges ran from station to station. Then, they were lined up again, and ordered to recite the things they were supposed to memorize. If they got it wrong, they were hit. Finally, right after Carlos Turner had given Michael Davis a kick to the chest, and Michael had gotten up and kept going, Michael sank to the ground and lapsed into unconsciousness.
His eyes were opening and closing. He was making moaning noises. But he was unconscious, not responding to anything. The fraternity members weren’t sure whether he was really injured, or whether he might have just passed out from the alcohol.
Pierre Williams and Tabari Wayne tried to carry him to his car. But they were too tired from the beating they had been taking themselves. Mikel Giles then took Mike from them and carried him to the car.
Cedric Murphy got into the car with them. Pierre drove. Cedric in front seat. Tabari and Michael Davis in back seat. They set out to take him home. But Cedric Murphy had them detour long enough to go through the Taco Bell drive-through to get him some food. Michael Davis was unconscious in the back seat.
Ironically, the Taco Bell was right across the street from a hospital.
After dropping Cedric Murphy off, Pierre and Tabari took Michael Davis home to his apartment on Sprigg Street in Cape Girardeau. They put him in bed. He was still unconsicous. They called Carlos Turner, one of the fraternity members. He came over and checked on Michael. He was unconscious, but breathing. Carlos told the others about a time when he had been knocked unconscious during a pledge session. They decided to let him sleep. Carlos left about 3:30 a.m. Pierre and Tabari stayed at Michael's apartment, sleeping in the living room.
The next morning, Pierre got up at 5:30 a.m. to take Cedric, a member of the football team, to the track to run. Michael's condition had not changed. Tabari got up later in the morning. Michael was still breathing. His condition still the same.
At about 1:30 in the afternoon, Tabari noticed "green stuff" coming out of Michael's mouth. He called Carlos. Carlos Turner hurried over. Michael had quit breathing. Carlos called 911. With help from the 911 operator, Carlos and Tabari gave Michael CPR. The firemen arrived within minutes, at 1:39 p.m. But it was too late. Michael Davis was dead.
Medical Examiner Michael Zaricor confirmed that Michael A. Davis died of a subdural hematoma -- internal bleeding in the brain caused by a blow to the head -- either from a direct blow, or from his head making contact with the ground. The pathologist said that in his opinion, the fatal blow would definitely have been inflicted on Monday evening, February 14, 1994. Although it was impossible to tell with certainty which specific blow had caused Michael's death, it was most likely the body-slamming.
The fraternity initially did its best to prevent the Major Case Squad from getting to the truth.
Carlos Turner lied to the firemen who were trying to save Michael. He told them Michael had been hurt playing football. After the police left, Carlos had the pledge, Tabari, help him clear all of the fraternity-related paperwork and muddy clothing worn in the hazing out of Michael's apartment. They put it all into a pink trash bag and dropped it in a dumpster near Carlos's apartment. He cleared out the fraternity things specifically because he did not want Michael Davis's death traced to the fraternity hazing.
Cape Girardeau Coroner John Carpenter had been suspicious of the claims of the fraternity members that Michael Davis had died from injuries received playing football. The large numbers of bruises all over the body seemed inconsistent with normal football injuries. His suspicions were further aroused when he found a small red spiral notebook hidden in the underwear on the corpse of Michael Davis at the hospital. Michael Davis would have had the notebook on him at the moment of his death. The notebook contained several notations relating to the fraternity and to hazing, including one which read: "Hazing is the physical conditioning of the mind."
Several of the fraternity members eventually told the truth to the Major Case Squad about the hazing incidents that led to the death of Michael Davis. Carlos Turner, for example, drove to St. Louis and told his parents what had happened. They told him that he would need to return to Cape Girardeau and do the right thing and tell the truth about what had happened. He did.
All seven who had participated in taking "stations" or who had thrown any sort of blow to Michael Davis on the night of the fatal hazing were charged with involuntary manslaughter, as well as with misdemeanor hazing. An additional eight fraternity members who had not thrown blows on the last fatal night, but who had participated in some form of hazing at any time during the week were charged with various counts of misdemeanor hazing.
Involuntary manslaughter is committed by recklessly causing the death of another person. It carries a range of punishment of one day to one year in the county jail or a prison sentence from one to seven years.
The case was extremely unusual for a homicide in that the victim had consented to all of the blows inflicted upon him, and the young men throwing the blows were friends of his, who liked him so much they wanted him to be a part of their group. They had not intentionally hurt him.
Nevertheless, Michael A. Davis was dead.
Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle made the same plea offer to all seven of the individuals charged with involuntary manslaughter. If they would plead guilty to the involuntary manslaughter count and one count of hazing, they would receive 30 days in jail to serve for the hazing, but would receive probation for the manslaughter. Conditions of probation would include 500 hours of community service. To the extent possible, the community service would be geared to activities calculated to deter hazing in the future. One stipulation, however, was that they had to accept the plea offer by the deadline given or it would be revoked.
Only three of the defendants, Carlos Turner, Mikel Giles and Cedric Murphy took the plea offer by its deadline. Each was eventually sentenced accordingly.
- Carlos Turner Mikel Giles Cedric Murphy
Fraternity President Lammoire Taylor chose to take his case to jury trial. The case was tried in St. Louis on a change of venue. The jury found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter and five counts of hazing (one for each pledge) and recommended one year in jail on the involuntary manslaughter count, plus six months in jail on each of the hazing counts. Circuit Judge David Mason subsequently granted probation on the manslaughter count, but imposed a six-month sentence on each of the hazing counts, with two of the sentences to run consecutively for a total sentence of one year to serve.
- Lammoire Taylor
One of the defendants charged only with hazing chose to take his case to jury trial, also in St. Louis. The jury found Keith L. Allen guilty of five counts of hazing and recommended a sentence of six months in jail on each count. Associate Circuit Judge Henry Autrey sentenced him to six months in jail on each count, with three of the sentences to run consecutively, for a total sentence of eighteen months in jail.
- Morley Swingle, as seen during his prosecution of Keith Allen.
- Allen was convicted of 5 counts of hazing
After the trials of Taylor and Allen, the rest of the fraternity members pled guilty. The same plea offer, however, was no longer on the table.
Vincent L. King, 21, pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and one count of hazing. He received a sentence of 5 years in prison for the manslaughter, but the judge brought him back early after he had served 120 days of "shock time" in prison. She also gave him a sentence of one year in the county jail for the hazing, but suspended the sentence and placed him on probation when he returned from prison.
- Vincent L. King
Michael Q. Williams, 19, pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and one count of hazing. He served 90 days in jail on the hazing, but received probation on the manslaughter charge. His probation was later revoked for unrelated reasons and he was sent to prison on January 24, 2000.
- Michael Q. Williams
Isaac Simms, III, 22, pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and one count of hazing. He served 30 days in jail for the hazing and was placed on probation for the manslaughter. During his time on probation, he was active in giving speeches about the dangers of hazing.
- Isaac Simms III
Seven other members of the fraternity pled guilty to misdemeanor hazing and received sentences ranging from 30 days in the county jail to probation with community service hours.
Ironically, Michael Davis, a journalism major who had dreamed of being on a national news-magazine show, ultimately became the focus of a Dateline segment called "Blood Brothers" and an Oprah show called "Dangerous Initiation Rituals" and an Arrest & Trial segment called "Frat Rats." His case not only caused the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity to be banned from Southeast Missouri State University, but also established the constitutionality of Missouri’s hazing statute and prompted legislative changes making most hazing incidents felonies.
- The dream of Michael Davis to be on national TV was fulfilled, but in a tragic way
The family members of Michael A. Davis have worked tirelessly in their efforts to have his death help end dangerous methods of fraternity hazing. Southeast Missouri State University has established a speaker program in his memory.
Everyone fervently hopes that no one else will ever die from the "physical conditioning of the mind" on a college campus. As Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle said in closing arguments, "Parents don’t send their children to college to have them come home in caskets."