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Cornell SAE Pledges Acquitted of Hazing Charges

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From the New York Times:

The three defendants — Max Haskin, Ben Mann and Edward Williams — were accused of making George Desdunes drink excessive amounts of alcohol during an induction ritual for the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, of which they were all members. They were charged with hazing in the first degree and unlawfully dealing with a child (referring to serving alcohol to a person under 21), both misdemeanors. But on Tuesday, Judge Judith A. Rossiter of Tompkins County Court acquitted them of all charges.

The verdict was reached after Judge Rossiter determined that not only were the pledges unaware of George Desdunes’ level of intoxication, but that Desdunes was participating in the event voluntarily. Several witnesses in the case testified that Desdunes had been drinking heavily for hours and that as an active he was free to stop the “kidnapping” at any time. They also claimed that Desdunes was known for being able to hold his liquor.

Although the three pledges were acquitted, Cornell’s SAE chapter did not defend itself against the hazing charges and has been kicked off campus. The fraternity will liked be forced to pay a fine.

This is a tragic story, and I wish the family of George Desdunes all the best, but I agree with the verdict. I one hundred percent believe that Desdunes was doing this voluntarily. Considering that he apparently A) was already pretty drunk and B) known for being able to hold his liquor, then it’s very likely that he stayed of his own accord, believing (mistakingly) that he was in no danger. People might not like to hear it, but George Desdunes was as responsible for his death as anyone else was. Furthermore, the kids who were “holding him captive” were just that, dumb kids. They had no idea what the hell they were doing. Granted that isn’t generally a good excuse to acquit someone, but considering how directly involved the victim was with his own fate, it makes a difference in a case like this. It’s a small bit of victory that these kids didn’t have their lives completely ruined for what was a tragic series of mistakes.

My thoughts go out to the family of George Desdunes. Hopefully this is a cautionary tale to everyone else out there.

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