MIAMI, FL– April 23, 2018- Tallahassee Democrat: Attorney asking to review Coffey grand jury proceedings
A defense attorney for one of the men accused in the hazing death of Andrew Coffey claims grand jurors were misled about the fraternity pledge’s past alcohol use.
Brian Tannebaum represents Anthony Petagine, one of three men set to stand trial on felony hazing charges in June. Luke Kluttz and Anthony Oppenheimer will also face a jury then.
A trial date for a fourth man, Clayton Muehlstein, has not yet been set.
Tannebaum is one of several defense attorneys who say they have found evidence — through the deposition of a friend of Coffey’s, as well as photos and texts from Coffey’s phone – that the 20-year-old from Pompano Beach abused alcohol long before he pledged Pi Kappa Phi fraternity at FSU.
But Tannebaum in court filings Friday, said two Leon County grand juries may not have been told that information and were not presented with witnesses who knew it or were asked questions about it.
The proceedings of the panel are held in secret.
He is asking Leon Circuit Judge Martin Fitzpatrick to release or allow the review of the grand jury transcripts.
“It is believed that the grand jury was told that Andrew Coffey had no history of substance abuse by someone other than a brother or pledge of Pi Kappa Phi.” Tannebaum wrote in his motion. “Perhaps if the grand jury was told that Andrew Coffey had a history of substance abuse, they may have determined that there was no basis for an indictment and instead returned a no true bill, ending this prosecution before it started.”
State Attorney Jack Campbell said he was opposed to the release of grand jury proceedings but declined to discuss specifics.
Central to the case, Tannebaum wrote, is whether Coffey was forced to drink or did so voluntarily. He is asking to determine what jurors learned about Coffey’s previous alcohol use, who indicated that he did not have a history of abuse, if any questions were asked and if so what answers were given.
A hearing date on the motion has not been set.
The 17-page grand jury findings said: “Coffey had no criminal or substance abuse history.”
The Coffey family attorney, David Bianchi, denied Coffey had a substance abuse problem and pointed to questionable defense tactics.
“What is bothersome about this is that we are witnessing efforts to blame the victim,” he said last week. “They have hired an army of lawyers and they can’t defend the case on the facts, so these lawyers are doing all they can to dig up dirt on Andrew Coffey and the family and that’s not what the case is about.”
Investigators said Coffey died of alcohol poisoning after being coerced to drink an entire bottle of bourbon. He was found unresponsive Nov. 3 following the fraternity’s Big Brother night, during which pledges are introduced to their member sponsors and encouraged to drink to excess, according to investigators.
Last week, Tannebaum and other attorneys said they were heading into a “trial by ambush” with the limited evidence they have seen against their clients. They grilled Campbell to provide specific evidence that ties their clients to Coffey’s hazing death.
Campbell, however, argued his office has charged the case as specifically as possible due to the way the Florida Legislature wrote the state’s hazing law. Lawmakers intentionally wrote the law broadly, he added.
Five defendants – Conner Ravelo, Kyle Bauer, Christopher Hamlin, Brett Birmingham and John Ray — all pleaded guilty last week to two counts of misdemeanor hazing.Each will spend time in the Leon County jail, pay fines, be required to speak publicly and testify about hazing and binge drinking and write letters of apology to the Coffey family.
Etters, Karl. “Attorney asking to review Coffey grand jury proceedings” Tallahassee Democrat, 23 April 2018, https://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/2018/04/23/attorney-asking-review-coffey-grand-jury-proceedings/542839002/ Accessed 23 April 2018.