Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cornell fraternity pledges acquitted in high-profile hazing case


George Desdunes


Cornell fraternity pledges acquitted in high-profile hazing case



ITHACA -- Sixteen months after George Desdunes died of alcohol poisoning at a Cornell University fraternity, the three men accused of hazing in his death have been acquitted of all charges. The verdict by Judge Judith Rossiter on Tuesday afternoon comes more than four weeks after the bench trial ended in Tompkins County Court in May.

Max Haskin, Ben Mann and Edward "EJ" Williams -- the three former Cornell freshmen and pledges to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity -- were cleared of all criminal wrongdoing in a case that put a spotlight on binge drinking in college fraternity culture. Desdunes, 19, died the morning of Feb. 25, 2011, with a blood alcohol content of .35 percent, according to court documents.

The case centered on the mock-kidnapping of Desdunes and fellow fraternity member Greg Wiler as part of a tradition meant to foster a sense of brotherhood with the prospective fraternity members. The pair were taken to an off-campus townhouse and asked questions about fraternity lore, with wrong answers resulting in punishments ranging from exercise and singing show tunes to drinking cups of alcohol. Wiler testified that he was blindfolded and given candy and vodka but was never forced to do anything against his will during the approximately hour-long ritual.