- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Four of five University of Mississippi students accused in an alleged October hazing incident have had charges against them dropped.

An attorney for one of the students tells The Clarion-Ledger (https://on.thec-l.com/1T3jThQ) that Judge Mickey Avent ruled Monday that the state did not meet its burden of proof in charging Christian Guy, Austin Rice and Kyle Hughes with larceny and James Declan Basile of assault, hazing and larceny.

The ruling came after the judge heard testimony from the alleged victim, Jeremy Boyle, a Sigma Pi fraternity member, and others.

Rice’s attorney, Tony Farese is calling the incident a fraternity prank gone bad.

“I think when it was reported, misinformation was disseminated to the press where all the young men were accused of assaulting Mr. Boyle, which wasn’t true,” Farese said. “We’re extremely pleased with the ruling. The judge did the right thing.”

According to Farese, the five accused men, Pi Kappa Alpha member James Declan Basile and four pledges - Tucker Cole Steil, Austin Rice, Christian Guy and Kyle Hughes - went to the Sigma Pi house to temporarily remove a concrete donkey that was on top of the fraternity house. Farese said the figurine was put there as a dare to other fraternities to try and steal it.

Farese said testimony from the investigating officer indicated that the defendants were going to take the donkey and bring it back in a few days.

Early reports said the alleged assault occurred early Oct. 6 when Boyle heard a disturbance in the backyard and was attacked by five people “when he went outside to investigate.”

Boyle suffered a concussion, several broken teeth, a ruptured eardrum and had a bruised lung, the Daily Mississippian (https://bit.ly/1PEmIsP) has reported. He was treated at Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi in Oxford and released.

Basile was initially charged with assault against Boyle, but in court Boyle testified that he initiated the fight by putting an individual he thought to be Steil in a headlock, but it turned out to be Basile.

“We’re pleased these young men were exonerated,” Farese said. “My client Austin Rice has a stellar record and a great future, and we want the public to be advised he was cleared of any wrongdoing.”

The five accused were disciplined by the university and kicked out of their fraternity, Farese said.

“It’s been a tragic situation for everyone involved,” he said.

Steil’s case has been continued. He is charged with felony-level assault.

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Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, https://www.clarionledger.com

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