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    • Women reach end of Rat Line.
    • Former rats remember torturous times at VMI.
    • Female cadets toughened up over the summer.
    • Maj. Gen. Josiah Bunting III is leading the march into coeducation.

    3 at VMI Indicted
    on Hazing Charges

    By Patricia Davis
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, May 5, 1998; Page B01

    Three Virginia Military Institute seniors were indicted yesterday on hazing charges by a Rockbridge County, Va., grand jury after a former first-year cadet testified that they routinely assaulted him with a belt.

    The misdemeanor indictments came less than two months after Gordon Saunders, the commonwealth's attorney in Rockbridge, decided there was not enough evidence to file assault charges in the case, in part because the former cadet, George Wade Jr., could be seen as a willing participant in the initiation rituals at the Lexington, Va., school.

    Wade, 20, of Henrico County, Va., had alleged that he and five other VMI freshmen were beaten with a belt – and once with a coat hanger – on the buttocks and upper thighs by the seniors about three times a week from Sept. 11 to mid-October.

    At Wade's request, Saunders then asked a Circuit Court judge to appoint a special prosecutor, who took the case before the grand jury.

    The jury's decision to indict is "great. It's all we wanted in the beginning," Wade's father, George Wade Sr., said yesterday. "At least now, what happened to George will be able to come out. And at least now, people will have to be accountable for what they did."

    Wade, who said the beatings left him and other freshmen with welts and bruises, dropped out of VMI in November. VMI suspended three students after an internal investigation of Wade's allegations. Two of those students – identified as seniors Charles Clemons and Jonathan Gonzales – were among those indicted yesterday. The third indicted student was identified by prosecutors as Thomas Upshaw. None of the indicted seniors could be reached by telephone last night.

    In announcing the indictments, special prosecutor Michael S. Irvine said he expects the case to result in challenges to Virginia's 48-year-old hazing law, including whether the case can proceed even though VMI's investigation did not conclude that hazing actually occurred. Nevertheless, he said, the issue should be resolved in court.

    VMI officials issued a statement indicating the school believes that its suspension of three students was a sufficient conclusion to the case.

    "This was a serious offense which warranted the suspension of three cadets, but after a thorough assessment of the incident, VMI found no evidence of bodily injury and did not file hazing charges," Col. Mike Strickler, VMI's spokesman, said in the statement.

    Strickler has said the school's investigation largely confirmed Wade's account of the beatings. Wade's family has contended that the school should have treated the beatings as a case of criminal hazing and pursued charges against the seniors involved.

    In an interview published in VMI's student newspaper, three of the freshmen who were beaten by seniors last fall challenged Wade's contention that the incidents were malicious attacks. They described what happened as "horseplay" and said all six freshmen involved were participating in what they considered to be a bonding experience.

    VMI's freshmen, called "rats," are routinely subjected to physical and verbal abuse by upperclassmen in a months-long ritual known as the Rat Line. But school officials have said they do not condone hazing, which under state law is a misdemeanor defined as mistreating "so as to cause bodily injury."

    Hazing is a Class 1 misdemeanor under Virginia law, punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

    Meanwhile, yesterday in Roanoke, attorneys for six VMI cadets who were expelled for lying about a series of spankings in the school's barracks asked a federal judge to allow the cadets to take final exams while the court decides whether the dismissals were proper.

    After U.S. District Judge James Turk urged the school and the attorneys to reach a compromise, VMI and attorneys for the students made an agreement in which the expelled students could still take their exams.

    The case involves three freshmen who were accused of lying to protect their senior mentors who spanked them with belts. The seniors were accused of lying about striking the freshmen for breaking barracks rules.

    The three freshmen and three seniors, who were expelled after a three-day trial before a student honor court, say the student investigators violated their constitutional rights by dragging them out of bed for questioning and not advising them of their right to remain silent.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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