By Ashlee Clark
RICHMOND — When Brent Whiteside visited three members of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, he knew they would beat him with canes, paddles, open hands and fists. But Whiteside said he was more scared of what would happen if he didn’t go.
“I showed up,” the Eastern Kentucky University student said. “I wasn’t given much of a choice. I did not know what was going to happen if I didn’t show up.”
Whiteside testified during a hearing Tuesday in Madison County District Court that EKU students Thomas Barnes, 21, and Gabriel M. McLaren, 22, and alumnus Alonzo C. McGill, 32, beat him almost daily from Jan. 29 through March 6 while he sought membership into EKU’s chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi.
Whiteside said the three men assaulted him at their Richmond homes. But from Feb. 14 through Feb. 22, Whiteside said he was beaten more than once by another fraternity member in Lexington.
Barnes, McLaren and McGill have been charged with fourth-degree assault in the case. The three men have pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Madison District Judge Earl-Ray Neal ruled that there was enough probable cause in the case to send it to a jury on Oct. 24.
During Whiteside’s nearly hour-long testimony, defense attorneys for Barnes, McLaren and McGill repeatedly questioned Whiteside’s willingness to repeatedly subject himself to the abuse that he described.
“I think that it’s unbelievable that somebody would constantly show up for a two-month period if they were going to be assaulted, especially to the extent that Mr. Whiteside claims,” said Jim Baechtold, the attorney who represents McLaren.
Whiteside testified that fraternity members never forced him to submit to the beatings or threatened retaliation. But “as far as everything that happened each night, that was threat enough,” he said.
Hazing experts say pledges are less inclined to quit the hazing process to avoid the stigma.
Two women pledging Alpha Kappa Alpha at a university in California drowned during a hazing ritual in 2002. A student pledging Kappa Alpha Psi at Florida A&M University was beaten with canes in 2006, and two fraternity brothers were sent to jail.
Tuesday’s testimony was the first time Whiteside has spoken publicly about the case.
Whiteside said he was beaten on the back, buttocks and chest by the three defendants, which caused severe bruising. At one point, Barnes hit Whiteside so hard with a cane that it snapped across his back, Whiteside said.
In March, Whiteside said he noticed blood in his urine. He was also light-headed and couldn’t hold down food. Whiteside threw up twice on March 6 while on the way to Lexington, where he says he was later beaten by fraternity members.
He said he went to a family doctor March 7, and was hospitalized March 8 for kidney failure. He spent several days at Central Baptist Hospital in Lexington.
Whiteside said he hasn’t fully recovered from his injuries.
In response to the hazing investigation, the fraternity’s chapters have been suspended at both EKU and the University of Kentucky.
Six members of UK’s chapter have also been implicated by an officer of Kappa Alpha Psi for their alleged involvement in the hazing case.
Whiteside testified that there were multiple members who attended the nightly beatings, but he could not identify anyone other than Barnes, McLaren and McGill.
A status conference in the case will take place Oct. 2 in Madison County District Court.