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What About a Criminal Conspiracy Charge?

The Sun reported yesterday that four former SAE brothers are facing criminal charges for February's alcohol-related death of George Desdunes '13:

Three former Sigma Alpha Epsilon pledges pleaded not guilty Thursday after a grand jury indicted them on misdemeanor charges of first-degree hazing and first-degree unlawfully dealing with a child. A fourth person under the age of 19 was also charged, but the records are sealed due to the person’s age.

The charges come in connection with the death of George Desdunes '13, who was found dead on a couch at the SAE fraternity house on Feb. 25.

Desdunes, 19, who was a brother in SAE, participated in a mock kidnapping before his death, according to the Associated Press, which cited court documents. He and another SAE brother had their hands and feet tied with zip ties and duct tape. The two were asked questions, and when they answered incorrectly, they did exercises or were given drinks, such as flavored syrup or vodka, the AP reported.

The three defendants whose names were released are Max Haskin ’14, Ben Mann ’14 and Edward Williams ’14. None of the four co-defendants are currently enrolled at Cornell, according to a press release from Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson.

In addition to the two charges, Williams also pleaded not guilty to a third charge of second-degree criminal nuisance, a misdemeanor, according to the AP.

For those interested, there's an active discussion going on over at the Sun's website questioning why manslaughter charges were not raised. But what I find most striking is that all of those charged were freshmen. But surely the idea to 'kidnap' a brother of the house and drink him silly, nor the alcohol used that fateful night, did not originate with these freshmen.

Which begs the question, "how come criminal conspiracy charges have not been charged against SAE's student leadership?" Because I suspect the fraternity's leadership acted in concert together to plan the 'new member education' and provide alcohol to the pledges. And they were knowingly cooperating and planning on breaking the law (either through hazing or through providing alcohol to minors) through the auspices of an incorporated organization.

I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know all of the intricacies of criminal law, but it seems pretty clear to me that more than just a couple of freshmen are in part responsible for Desdunes's death. Perhaps a civil suit will explore that side of the case.

I'm not necessarily trying to point fingers, but as I wrote back in March, clearly institutions and culture matter, and clearly we are all in some ways responsible. And yes, while I don't think we're criminals, I think that holds true even for us alumni who don't lobby the University more pro-actively for constructive changes to the structure of undergraduate social life.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on May 07, 2011 (#)

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