Two men accused of misdemeanor charges in the hazing death of Cal Poly freshman Carson Starkey in 2008 entered pleas Thursday and were sentenced to 30 days in County Jail.
In San Luis Obispo Superior Court, Adam Marszal of Carmichael and Russell Taylor of Fresno, both 23, entered pleas of no contest to misdemeanor hazing resulting in death.
Judge Linda Hurst sentenced both to the jail time plus three years of probation and waived their rights to an appeal. A no contest plea results in a conviction without an admission of guilt — though the punitive effect is similar to a guilty plea.
Marszal and Taylor are also required to complete 40 hours of community service or give two presentations on the dangers of alcohol and hazing in schools within a year. Hurst recommended they put on the presentations.
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Starkey died of alcohol poisoning after a hazing incident involving drinking while pledging Sigma Alpha Epsilon in December 2008.
Starkey’s parents — Scott and Julia — both spoke at Thursday’s hearing and urged the men to work to prevent hazing.
The Starkeys — who live in Austin, Texas — have collaborated with Cal Poly officials and Texas politicians to create immunity for minors who illegally consume or possess alcohol if they seek assistance for a medical emergency.
The Starkeys addressed their comments to the two men, SAE leadership and more than 20 other fraternity members who attended the hazing at a home in San Luis Obispo.
“Pressuring someone through psychological, emotional or physical means is wrong,” Scott Starkey said. “When this happens with children we call it bullying, in young adults it is known as hazing, and in adults the term is abuse. Your acts of hazing caused Carson to die.”
Julia Starkey said the criminal proceedings over the past 19 months have been trying.
“Carson will never go away,” she said. “I will always miss him, his humor, his kindness for others, his friendship and companionship, but mostly I will never again see his playful grin or receive one of his warm hugs.”
Marszal and Taylor both apologized to the Starkey family in court when asked by Hurst if they wished to make a comment.
“I cannot possibly convey the true depth of my sadness and my sympathy for you and all who have been touched by Carson’s life,” Marszal said. “This past year and a half has been hard on many people, but none more than you.”
Two other SAE fraternity members — Zacary Ellis of San Luis Obispo and Haithem Ibrahim of Lafayette — also pleaded no contest to misdemeanor hazing causing death in June.
Ellis was sentenced to 120 days in County Jail and three years of informal probation. Ibrahim was sentenced to 45 days in County Jail, three years’ informal probation and cooperation in Cal Poly’s anti-hazing education efforts.
Scott and Julia Starkey say they hope to bring positive influence to awareness of alcohol and hazing issues.
Their efforts have included creating a nonprofit group called Team ALP — for Adventure Leadership Fund —that develops “responsible leaders and promotes the moral obligation to assist others in need” through experiences in the outdoors. Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed into law the Carson Starkey Alcohol Awareness and Education Act, authored by Starkey family friend and Texas state Sen. Kirk Watson.
The law added curriculum on alcohol poisoning and binge drinking into Texas public schools.
The Starkeys also have been active in creating change at Cal Poly, which has included deferring the rush process for new students until the spring quarter.
They also support the long-term suspension of SAE that Cal Poly officials say likely will keep the fraternity from ever returning to campus.
In addition, the Starkeys are encouraging a hazing hotline and an online disciplinary history of specific fraternities and sororities at Cal Poly.
They hope to change a culture of binge drinking that exists nationwide among many young adults that can lead to life-threatening situations.
“We hope young people will seek other ways to let loose,” Scott Starkey said. “There are so many outlets and ways to have fun that don’t involve drinking.”