OMAHA, Neb. — Hazing rituals at an Omaha fraternity share the blame for one student’s attack on another, a defense attorney said this week.
Christopher Wheeler, 20, is charged with second-degree assault and weapon use on a female Creighton University student in February 2017, the Omaha World-Herald reported .
Steve Lefler, Wheeler’s attorney, acknowledged that Wheeler slashed the woman’s neck with a knife. Lefler is seeking to include testimony regarding Phi Kappa Psi fraternity’s hazing practices to illustrate how hazing influenced his client’s actions.
Wheeler spent the hours before the assault drinking heavily with the fraternity as part of the group’s hazing rituals, Lefler said. Wheeler walked into the woman’s room at his residence hall and called her by the wrong name. The woman said he had the wrong person. Wheeler then turned and swung at her with a pocketknife.
“Everything that happened was completely out of character,” said Susan Lipkins, a defense expert who wrote a book called “Preventing Hazing.” ”He would not have been doing these things had he not been (hazed).”
Prosecutors have objected to the hazing defense, citing state law that says intoxication isn’t a defense for criminal conduct. Prosecutor Sean Lynch disputed the idea that Wheeler wasn’t in control of his actions, noting that he purchased and drank vodka on his own.
Intoxication can be a defense if the defendant didn’t voluntarily get drunk, Lefler said.
Fraternity officials have denied any wrongdoing. Creighton investigated and suspended the fraternity following Wheeler’s arrest.
Douglas County District Judge Shelly Stratman will decide whether testimony about the alleged hazing will be allowed at trial. She’s scheduled an additional hearing on the issue later this month.
Wheeler is scheduled to go on trial in April.
Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com