Trial Set For Hazing Suspect

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Monday, January 22, 2018

Arizona Superior Court has set trial date for hazing suspect, Nathaniel Thomas (17). Thomas was one of six Hamilton football players in Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix, to be arrested on March 22, 2017, and the only one charged as an adult. He is defended by Cindy Castillo on felony charges of Sexual Assault (2 ct.), Aggravated Assault (2 ct.), Assault (2 ct.) and Kidnapping.

The arrests and subsequent charges were a result of a long term investigation into hazing within the nationally recognized Hamilton football program between September 2015 and January 2017. Investigators have uncovered electronic video, images, audio, text, emails, and social media with 11 alleged victims (only six cooperating).

Castillo will face-off against seasoned, yet controversial, prosecutor Frankie Grimsman. Grimsman was accused of Prosecutorial Misconduct in the 2013 Jeffery Martinson murder trial. Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery has designated all Hamilton hazing related cases will be prosecuted by Grimsman.

Thomas's hazing case is further complicated by an alleged coverup by Hamilton football coach Steve Belles, athletic director Shawn Rustad, and principal Ken James. Investigators have since recommended Failure to Report Child Abuse and Child Abuse charges for the three. Evidence, released in December 2017, documents administrators had knowledge of who was committing the hazing and attempted to suppress the incidents which conflicted with their police statements and public comments. All three were reassigned to the district offices.

Additional court documents show a concerted victim and witnesses intimidation effort. Chandler Police have since investigated several death threats and life-threatening vandalism. Court documents allege Thomas also partook in the intimidation in one confirmed text message, "If I get expelled from Hamilton, ur gonna regret it". There has not been any intimidation charges against Thomas, but was warned by the court if he was involved in any form his bond would be rejected placing him in Maricopa County Sherif's Office custody for the remainder of the trial.

If convicted of one of the Class 2 Felony Aggravated Assault charges, Thomas faces an adult federal prison sentence of 7 to 21 years. Thomas's mother, Felicia Gillespie, and extended family have supported him throughout the process with a large Hamilton student contingent. There has been no comments from Castillo about her defense strategy.