Associated Press, May 5, 1998

Whipped with leather belts and lying about it--VMI OKs seating 6 for exams

ROANOKE, Va. -- The Virginia Military Institute said yesterday that six cadets expelled for lying about a spanking ritual will be allowed to take their final exams, and a federal judge will decide whether their punishment was proper.

The three freshmen and three seniors were expelled Friday night after a three-day trial before the student honor court.

Yesterday, lawyers for the cadets asked U.S. District Judge James Turk to intervene, arguing that the students' constitutional due process rights were violated by student investigators.

The cadets have said that during a hazing investigation in February, student investigators dragged them out of bed between midnight and 2 a.m. for questioning.

An attorney speaking for all six cadets argued that the students' statements were coerced and that they weren't advised of their right to remain silent or seek outside advice.

Turk criticized VMI's method of investigating honor code violations. "It just seems like Gestapo tactics," the judge said during the hearing.

VMI attorney Tabor Cronk defended the process.

"I don't see the great conflict between loyalty to one's fellow student and the honor system," Cronk said.

Lawyers for the cadets had also asked the judge to force VMI to allow them to take final exams.

During a recess in the hearing, the school agreed to let the students take the exams, which are being taken this week and next week.

The freshmen were accused of lying to protect their senior mentors who spanked them with belts.

The seniors were accused of lying about striking the male freshmen for breaking barracks rules.

VMI freshmen, known as rats because of their lowly status, endure a harsh system of discipline for most of their first year.

Upperclassmen can force them to do physical exercise and run errands if they violate strict rules of conduct and appearance.

However, VMI forbids the striking of any cadet and calls for cadets to be expelled if the honor court finds them guilty of lying, cheating or stealing.

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