CHESTERFIELD, Va. (Reuters) - Four men pleaded guilty and were sentenced to jail on Thursday for the 2013 hazing deaths of two Virginia State University students who drowned during an initiation ritual.
The men - James Mackey Sr., 37; Eriq Benson, 21; Cory Baytop, 28; and Charles Zollicoffer II, 30 - each pleaded guilty in Chesterfield County Circuit Court to two counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of hazing.
Under an agreement with prosecutors, they were sentenced to jail terms of about five to 14 months.
"I take full responsibility,” Mackey told the families of the 19-year-old victims, Marvell Edmondson and Jauwan Holmes. “It was never supposed to happen.”
The four were connected with the Men of Honor, an unauthorized social club at the historically black school near Petersburg.
Edmondson, of Portsmouth, and Holmes, of Newport News, drowned in April 2013 when they tried to cross the rain-swollen Appomattox River as part of an initiation.
Five other students were swept away but survived. Baytop and Benson were then students at the school.
In response to the incident, Virginia State rewrote its guidelines and made the failure to report hazing a college offense.
Editing by Ian Simpson; Editing by Mohammad Zargham