Fifth and final Wheaton College football player charged in 2016 hazing scandal pleads case down to misdemeanor disorderly conduct
The case of the fifth and final former Wheaton College football player charged in a nearly 3-year-old hazing scandal that injured a teammate has come to a close, thanks to a rarely used legal maneuver.
Attorneys for Benjamin Pettway, 23, of Lookout Mountain, Georgia, entered a little-used Alford plea Friday before Judge Brian Telander found him guilty of a Class C misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct.
Attorney Lee Davis, of Chattanooga, Tennessee, said Pettway needed to use the Alford plea -- a guilty plea by a defendant who proclaims he is innocent of the crime, but admits prosecutors have enough evidence to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt -- to maintain Pettway's standing in a pending civil suit filed by the victim, Charles Nagy.
Pettway was sentenced to court supervision with time served and ordered to perform 50 hours of community service. Davis said the service has been completed at Wheaton College.
In September 2017, a grand jury approved a nine-count felony indictment against Pettway and four teammates, charging them with aggravated battery, mob action and unlawful restraint.
Prosecutors dropped all 9 felony counts against Pettway, as they did for the other four men, and instituted the misdemeanor count.
Pettway, Noah Spielman of Columbus, Ohio; Samuel TeBos of Allendale, Michigan; Kyler Kregel of Grand Rapids, Michigan; and James Cooksey of Jacksonville, Florida, were accused of abducting Nagy, now 22, from his dorm March 19, 2016.
They were accused of putting a pillowcase over Nagy's head and tying him with duct tape before he was placed in Pettway's pickup truck and driven to a baseball field near Hawthorne Elementary School in Wheaton. Prosecutors said the five repeatedly punched and kicked Nagy, kicked dirt on him and left him partially nude on the field.
After the attack, Nagy underwent two shoulder surgeries for torn labra, which he alleged were injured in the attack.
TeBos, Kregal, Cooksey and Spielman have pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges.
Telander said Friday he believed Pettway to be the "least culpable" of the players charged. He added the disorderly conduct charge, which amounts to "just above a traffic ticket," was appropriate.
"(Pettway) was an honor student in high school and in college. In this incident, he immediately took responsibility by reporting the incident," Telander said. "In my eyes, he stands apart from the others."
Outside of court, Davis ripped Nagy for lying to his attorney, Terry Ekl, and prosecutors about when he actually injured his shoulders. Davis also said he and attorney Rick Kayne had obtained video evidence of Nagy getting injured in high school and retained two expert opinions that supported their claims that Nagy's injury "could not have happened during this prank."
"We've got a young man who was embarrassed to be subjected to a prank, who made up injuries," Davis said. "And, who knows? Maybe he just doesn't want to play football."
Ekl, who represents Nagy in the civil suit seeking $50,000 in damages and filing costs, called Davis' claims "absolutely absurd."
"They have two paid experts who are looking at a video and making a determination of when an injury occurred and the severity of it?" Ekl asked. "That's just incompetent."
Pettway has filed a counterclaim to that suit, alleging defamation. The suit is next scheduled for May 15 for arguments on Ekl's motion to dismiss Pettway's countersuit.