Nov 18, 2019
Within the past six years, Theta Chi is the second fraternity at Fresno State to have its chapter revoked of its charter. All active members are currently considered alumni of Theta Chi.

Two defendants in Fresno State fraternity pledge death get jail time

Two years after the hazing-related death of 18-year-old Fresno State Theta Chi pledge Philip Dhanens, two of the three men involved in the case were sentenced Tuesday at the Fresno County Superior Court.

Leonard Louis Serrato, 30, was sentenced to 90 days in jail, three years’ probation and 90 days in an adult work offender program. Aaron Joseph Raymo, 26, was sentenced to 30 days in jail, three years’ probation and 90 in the adult work offender program.

“I think about Philip every day, but I try and let it inspire me. I try to inspire others,” Raymo said.

Serrato and Raymo plead no contest on charges of hazing and providing alcohol to a minor causing death, which could have meant up to 180 days in jail.

Both Serrato and Raymo were present in the chapter room when 14 pledges, some of whom were underage, consumed excessive amounts of hard alcohol provided by the fraternity on the night of Aug. 31, 2012.

When Dhanens was discovered unresponsive, Raymo provided CPR and chest compressions on Dhanens and followed him to the hospital that night, said Raymo’s attorney Douglas Foster.

“Universities and the national fraternities have the power to audit these fraternities, send people in and check to see whether there is underage drinking and address that issue: they have not done so,” said Serrato’s attorney Jeff Hamerschmidt. “These deaths are not acceptable, and they are going to continue to occur unless changes are made.”

Dhanens’ mother, Diane Dhanens, was also present at the sentencing and spoke about championing her late son’s life in order to inspire change and establish a new outcome for campuses nationwide.

“We collectively teach fraternities and colleges that systemic problems of hazing and misuse of alcohol in fraternity events can be solved,” Dhanens said, “that we collectively teach students and families that Greek life can grow through camaraderie and be that home away from home comfort that some college students need as they work through their studies.”

Raymo, who was honorably discharged from the military as a result of the charges, was suspended from Fresno State for one year before completing his degree and moving to Southern California.

Serrato has been in contact with Dr. Carolyn Coon, Fresno State’s associate vice president for student affairs, about speaking to students about underage drinking.

“He wants to do this in a manner that’s not just fraternities or sororities, but all students,” Hamerschmidt said.

Daniel Woodward Baker, 23, the president of the Theta Chi fraternity when Dhanens had pledged, plead no contest on June 30 to a single misdemeanor charge of hazing. He was sentenced to three years’ probation, 30 days in the adult work offender program and 200 hours of community service.

Dr. Mathew Jendian, Fresno State chair and professor for the department of sociology, said that even identifying hazing has proven problematic, and that until society recognizes hazing as a systemic social problem, there can be no easy solution.

Jendian said while it’s important that Raymo, the last of the Theta Chi members to be charged, accepted responsibility, there are wider issues.

“Until there are widespread public denouncements of such actions as a larger societal problem, hazing on this campus and across the United States will continue to occur,” Jendian said.

According to a 2010 study of college students by Jonathan Wynn, a professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, “over half surveyed (55 percent) reported activities consistent with hazing through ‘the process of becoming a member or maintaining membership in student organizations, clubs, and teams,’ even though nine out of 10 wouldn’t label their experiences as such.”

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