Andrew White, one of 11 Virginia Commonwealth University students charged in a February fraternity death, pleaded guilty on Tuesday according to reports.
White, 23, and 10 other members of the VCU Delta Chi chapter are facing unlawful hazing charges after Adam Oakes, a 19-year-old pledge, died from alcohol poisoning early this year. He was the first of the group to enter a plea in the case.
The since-expelled 23-year-old admitted culpability for hazing and serving alcohol to a minor, both misdemeanors punishable by to one year behind bars and as much as $2,500 in fines. He’s due back before Richmond Circuit Court Judge Claire G. Cardwell in March for sentencing, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Andrew White Pleads Guilty in Fraternity Death
Andrew White pleaded guilty to both charges in a Richmond court on Tuesday to accept his responsibility in the death of Adam Oakes, his lawyer said. State prosecutors confirmed that the 23-year-old’s admission was not the result of a plea deal.
According to local reports, Oakes was found dead in February the day after the fraternity celebrated his initiation into its ranks. A police investigation found that the 19-year-old was instructed by frat members to finish a “large bottle of whiskey.”
He was found unresponsive the next morning, and an autopsy later confirmed he died from alcohol poisoning in the night.
White was Oakes’ “big brother” in the fraternity, a sort of mentor assigned to new recruits. His lawyer told the court that White stayed with Oakes, who witnesses said was visibly intoxicated, until around 3 a.m., and that the 23-year-old was seen caring for Oakes on a video call around that time.
Oakes was reportedly being admitted to Delta Chi as an “underground pledge” and not an official member, as his grade point average did not meet the minimum required by the fraternity’s national guiding body. As such, he was told by chapter leadership not to attend an anti-hazing training earlier that day.
The Delta Chi chapter at VCU has since been expelled. University administrators have also banned alcohol at Greek events and temporarily forbidden fraternities and sororities from recruiting new members.
Victim’s Family Speaks Out
Adam Oakes’ family was present at the plea hearing in Richmond Tuesday, which lasted about 15 minutes. Afterwards, the Oakes issued a statement, according to local news station WTVR.
“As much as we want to see this plea as a glimmer of hope in Adam’s case, it is only one of 11,” the family wrote. “The pain and heartache has only just begun, and there is such a long road ahead for our family. We hold tight to Adam’s memory and let that drive our actions toward change against hazing.”
The statement continued: “He was a genuinely nice person with an amazingly warm personality and heart. Adam loved everyone he encountered, including Andrew, and unfortunately that opened him up to what occurred that night. Someone he saw as a new friend, mentor, and companion disregarded the fact that Adam was a human being, that he was someone’s son, grandson, nephew, and cousin.”
“He had a strong misunderstanding of what it is to be a big brother,” they said of White. “A big brother is someone who is supposed to look out for you, protect you, and teach you what it means to be a brother in the fraternity. To us, Andrew failed his first night on the job. His failure to fulfill his role cost Adam his life. Adam’s first night as a Delta Chi will always be his last.”
More Trials to Come in Fraternity Death
Eleven Delta Chi members were charged with unlawful hazing after Oakes’ death. Five of them, including white, were also charged with serving alcohol to a minor.
White is so far the only one to enter a guilty plea and to have a sentencing hearing scheduled. Three of the accused students have jury trials scheduled for next spring.