updated 9/25/2006 8:48:23 PM ET 2006-09-26T00:48:23

Marcus Jones said he had a ruptured ear drum and injuries to his buttocks that required 25 stitches after his initiation into the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity at Florida A&M University.

He told his parents that for four days he was blindfolded, paddled with wooden canes and punched with boxing gloves.

Jones, a sophomore, wanted to keep the February incident quiet, but his father called police. They charged five fraternity brothers under a new Florida law that makes hazing a felony if it results in serious bodily injury or death. Possible penalties range from probation to five years in prison.

The case is the first major test of one of the nation's toughest anti-hazing laws. Opening statements in the trial start Wednesday, which is the middle of National Hazing Prevention Week, an event organized by the Association of Fraternity Advisors.

Possible national implications
Forty-four states have anti-hazing laws, but Florida is one of the few that has made it a serious criminal offense, said retired Pennsylvania Judge Mitch Crane, an anti-hazing advocate who has been following the case.

"If these young men are found guilty and if they are sent to jail then it will have national implications," Crane said Monday before beginning a Hazing Prevention Week speaking tour.

Jones, 19, of Decatur, Ga., has not returned to school. His attorney did not respond to requests for comments to The Associated Press.

"My son went off to school healthy and happy. He returned busted up and bruised," his father, Army Master Sgt. Mark Jones, recently told The Miami Herald. "He looked like a soldier you see on 'M.A.S.H.'"

The defendants, Brian Bowman, 23; Cory Gray, 22; Jason Harris, 25; Marcus Hughes, 21, and Michael Morton, 23, have been suspended pending the outcome of the case. The university also has suspended the fraternity chapter until 2013.

Defense cites law's language
Lawyer Chuck Hobbs, who represents all the defendants except Harris, said he would present evidence that Jones failed to identify who hit him.

He also plans to argue the law fails to define the term "serious bodily injury" and plans to cite medical evidence he claimed would show Jones has fully recovered.

"The injuries that he has complained about we don't believe rise to the nature of serious bodily injuries," Hobbs said Monday.

The Florida law was inspired by the 2001 death of 18-year-old Chad Meredith during rush week at the University of Miami. The freshman from Indianapolis drowned while trying to swim across a campus lake with two Kappa Sigma fraternity brothers after a bout of drinking.

Florida's prior hazing law lacked criminal penalties, instead allowing schools to take administrative action such as suspending fraternities and students. The new law made another significant change — the argument that someone consented to hazing can't be used as a defense.

That argument previously made it difficult to prosecute hazing cases as battery or under other criminal laws, officials said.

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