Fraternity, 3 men face trial in Cornell drinking death
May 18, 2012
Ithaca -- Three men and a Cornell University fraternity will stand trial beginning Monday on hazing charges in the death of George Desdunes, a 19 year-old student and fraternity member who died of alcohol poisoning in February 2011 after hours of drinking in Ithaca.
The question in front of the court will be to the culpability of the fraternity and the three men accused in Desdunes' death. The men -- Max Haskin, Edward "EJ" Williams and Ben Mann -- face charges of hazing and unlawful dealing with a child in the first-degree. The Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter is accused of the same, with an additional count of second-degree criminal nuisance.
Desdunes, who was a member of the fraternity, died the morning of Feb. 25, 2011. Court documents detail a night of fraternal rituals and heavy drinking that stretched into the early morning hours.
Earlier that evening the fraternity, housed at the time at 122 McGraw Place, hosted a members-only beer pong tournament. Desdunes, who attended but did not participate in the drinking game, left with other fraternity members to drink in Collegetown area bars. At 1 a.m. Desdunes called for a ride from a fraternity pledge tasked as the designated driver.
When Desdunes and another fraternity member, Gregory Wyler, entered the vehicle, a group of pledges "kidnapped" the pair as part of a ritual where pledges can quiz older members about fraternity lore.
The defendants brought Wyler and Desdunes to Cornell campus townhouse apartment B3, according to court documents. There, at Williams' residence, the defendants bound the feet and hands of Wyler and Desdunes and asked a series of questions. Incorrect responses resulted in orders to do exercises such as sit-ups or crunches, or to drink a mix of water, flavored syrups, sugar and vodka, according to the accusations.
Around 5 a.m., the pledges called for a designated driver to bring Wiler and Desdunes back to the fraternity. Desdunes passed out on the way and had to be carried into the house, where he was left on a couch in the library.
A custodian found Desdunes unresponsive two hours later. Cayuga Medical Center found Desdunes to have a blood alcohol content of .35 percent, more than four times the legal limit to drive.
Jury selection begins Monday, but may be waived in favor of a bench trial.