Police police cars outside the fraternity where a 20-year-old was found dead Nov. 9. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Police police cars outside the Zeta Psi fraternity in November 2014 (file photo). Photo: Emilie Raguso

Two years after being charged with attempted murder in connection with the beating with a metal bat of a pair of UC Berkeley students, an Oakland man has entered dual “no contest” pleas for assault with a deadly weapon.

Frank Paul Watson, 25, was arrested after the attack on April 27, 2014, which left two members of the Zeta Psi fraternity with significant injuries. Both were struck once in the head with the metal bat. One of the young men, Thayer White, suffered a traumatic brain injury. The other ended up needing reconstructive surgery to repair injuries to his face and jaw.

According to court papers, witnesses testified during the preliminary hearing — in December 2014 — that there had been a party that night at Zeta Psi, 2728 Bancroft Way. The party started Saturday night, April 26, and carried on into the early morning of Sunday. Three fraternity brothers, including the one who needed reconstructive surgery, testified about their memories of that night. 

They said there had been “a tussle” at the party involving fraternity members and several teenagers who had crashed Zeta Psi parties in the past. A group of fraternity brothers argued and fought with the teens to get them to leave.

Once the teens had been forced outside, a man pulled up in a silver sedan. He spoke to the teens, then retrieved the metal bat from his trunk, according to testimony. The man appeared angry and was yelling. Words were exchanged. One witness said Watson shouted, “Who wants to … fight?”

Thayer White had to learn how to speak again after suffering a traumatic brain injury in 2014. Photo: Thayer White/LinkedIn
White had to learn how to speak again after suffering a traumatic brain injury in 2014. Photo: Thayer White/LinkedIn

He crossed Bancroft and struck White once in the head. One witness said White fell to the ground “like dead weight.”

A second student then ran up to the man with the bat. His hands were lifted in a “what are you doing?” type of gesture. Witnesses said Watson asked him: “Are you stupid?” before swinging the bat at his head, causing him to fall abruptly to the ground and lose consciousness as well.

Watson and the teens then left the area, witnesses testified. Police stopped him nearby and he was ultimately arrested.

It took White several minutes before he could stand and was able to walk inside. By the time paramedics tried to question him a short time later, he was unable to answer basic questions. It would later turn out he had a serious traumatic brain injury that would require extensive rehabilitation, including relearning how to speak and read.

During the preliminary hearing, Watson’s defense attorney Francisco Karwash emphasized the different races of what he called the “outsider” teens and Watson, who were black, and the fraternity members, all of whom were white.

He painted a picture of chaos and drunkenness, where one of the fraternity brothers had punched one of the teens in the face, and another had advanced on Watson’s car — after the bat assaults — and tried to shatter his window. (Those two individuals were not the students who were injured.)

“It’s not a desire to kill anybody. It is not an express intent to watch someone’s life to end. But rather it’s a desire to stop the confrontation from occurring,” the attorney argued, noting that Watson only struck each student once in the head, rather than repeatedly.

After the hearing, an Alameda County Superior Court judge held Watson to answer on two counts of attempted murder and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon.

“When an individual takes a metal bat and swings it at someone’s head with enough force to knock someone completely unconscious on two separate occasions, that’s what, in the law, we refer to as implied malice,” said Judge Gregory Syren. “That’s an inherently dangerous act that could very likely cause somebody’s death.”

It was a difficult year for Zeta Psi. About six months later, in November 2014, a 20-year-old man who had been a visitor to Cal died from alcohol poisoning after a large party at the fraternity. Zeta Psi had lost its official affiliation with the university in December 2010 after reported violations and a failure to follow the rules, according to the Daily Cal.

Watson took the plea deal April 28 just as the case was set to begin trial. He entered no contest pleas in connection with two charges: assault with a deadly weapon causing great bodily injury, and assault with a deadly weapon.

Watson remains in custody without bail and is scheduled to be sentenced June 10.

Alcohol at Cal: Authorities report record arrests, tickets (09.10.15)
Berkeley neighbors take on ‘noisy and drunken parties’ (05.05.15)
Man, 20, found dead after party at Berkeley frat house (11.09.14)
Man arrested after attempted homicide with baseball bat following Cal frat house fight (04.28.14)
The Never Land of Zeta Psi: excavating a frat house (09.22.10)

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[Editor’s Note: The sentencing date is June 10. It has been corrected in the story above.]

Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...