After Former Pledges Acquitted, Cornell SAE Found Guilty of Hazing in George Desdunes’ Death

After ruling three former Cornell Sigma Alpha Epsilon pledges not guilty in the death of Cornell student and SAE brother George Desdunes, a Tompkins County Court judge found Cornell’s SAE chapter guilty of hazing in Desdunes’ death, The Ithaca Journal reports. While the three former pledges were acquitted, the judge used details from their trial in the decision to find SAE guilty, as the fraternity chose to “disregard or ignore the proceedings in Criminal Court.”

Details from the trial seem to describe the fraternity as … well, a fraternity. According to The Journal:

“Witnesses testified about a beer pong tournament held at 122 McGraw Place the night that Desdunes died, and described a house where alcohol was readily available to pledges and members regardless of age. In her decision, Rossiter wrote that ritual line-ups at the fraternity constituted hazing under New York law. During the weekly line-ups fraternity members subjected assembled pledges to taunts, punishments and directives.”

However, what could have been the most damning piece against the fraternity is this: “Witnesses testified that at a line-up two days before Desdunes died, fraternity members berated pledges for not conducting more of the ritualistic mock-kidnappings that were a fraternity tradition.” Unfortunately, they seemed to have listened. Read the rest of this entry »

Marina Keegan’s Boyfriend May Face Criminal Charges For Her Death

A month after the car crash that left a recent Yale graduate dead, the Massachusetts State Police may seek criminal charges against the car’s driver, her boyfriend and Yale classmate Michael Gocksch.

According to the AP, “Gocksch was driving when 22-year-old Marina Keegan … died in the May 26 rollover on their way to a birthday dinner for Keegan’s father. The couple had graduated from Yale days earlier.” Keegan, a talented writer who had written for the New York Times and accepted a position at the New Yorker following graduation, gained national attention after her death for her final column in The Yale Daily News.

The YDN reports, “Gocksch faces charges of motor vehicle homicide by reckless operation and reckless driving, as well as a citation for a marked lanes violation.” If charged and convicted, Gocksch may face a minimum of 30 days or up to two and half years of jail time.

However, it remains unclear how culpable Gocksch is in this tragedy, or to what extent this was really just an awful accident. At the time of the crash, according to the Cape Cod Times, local police reported that “speed does not appear to be a factor, and both passengers were wearing seat belts.” The Times also reports that Keegan’s father claims Gocksch fell asleep at the wheel, which may be enough to charge him with “reckless” operation and driving

Two More Cornell Students Die in Ithaca’s Infamous Gorges

More sad news out of Ithaca (via the Cornell Sun): two members of the Cornell community, Nathaniel Rand ’12 and a visiting international student (whose name has yet to be released), died in separate incidents in the Fall Creek gorge on Saturday. Both deaths were accidental, and brings the summer total of gorge deaths to three.

Cornell University President David Skorton sent out a campuswide e-mail urging “each member of our community and every visitor to our campus to observe the necessary and strict prohibitions that are in place to protect all while enjoying our natural areas.” Skorton also promised additional police patrols and alluded to potential additional safety precautions.

Some clarification on the details: Gawker wrote that the two students “fell to their deaths” and represent the third and fourth such deaths this summer. The Cornell Sun, however, reports that Nathaniel Rand ’12 was trapped underwater while swimming with friends; the unnamed visiting international student apparently lost his footing when walking near a gorge trail. The only other gorge-related fatality this summer was on May 30, when Kendrick Castro slipped in the creek and was swept downstream to his death just one day after he graduated from the University. Read Skorton’s full e-mail after the jump:
Read the rest of this entry »

Cornell SAE Sued For $25M Over Death of Brother

It always felt like the other shoe had yet to drop in the case of George Desdunes, the Cornell sophomore and SAE brother who was found dead in his fraternity house on Feb. 25. Four former SAE pledges were charged in May with first-degree hazing and first-degree “unlawfully dealing with a child” — which carry with them maximum penalties of one year in prison (no small punishment, to be certain). But still, given the magnitude of the circumstances, it felt like retribution hadn’t been fully doled out.

Not so much any more: Desdunes’ mother, Marie Lourdes Andre, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the frat with a price tag of $25 million. She said, according to the Associated Press (by way of the Cornell Sun):

With the death of my son, I find some comfort in knowing that this lawsuit may bring about changes in fraternities that will prevent other families from suffering as I have.

In the initial weeks and months following Desdunes’ death, its circumstances remained shrouded in mystery. But the story we now know goes something like this:

George and another SAE brother had been whisked away on the night of Feb. 24, in what was called a “voluntary kidnapping.” (SAE had a history of such stunts.) His captors were a group of pledges, who administered “reverse-hazing” — wherein Desdunes would answer questions about the frat, drink for wrong answers, and perform calisthenics, according to the suit. The pledges later returned him to the SAE house, his wrists and ankles bound with zip ties and duct tape, and left him asleep on a couch, where he was later found. An autopsy revealed that his BAC was 0.409 at the time of his death.

The lawsuit deals another brutal (but not unwarranted) blow to SAE, who had already been suspended from operation for five years following a Cornell investigation into George’s death. “Local chapter officers and members” were also named as defendants in the suit, according to the AP, though their names have not yet surfaced.

Update: Here’s an ABC News video clip detailing the story. — C.B.

Update No.2: The Cornell Sun is now reporting that the lawsuit names 20 former SAE brothers and pledge members as defendants, in addition to the fraternity. — C.B.

Four Cornell Frat Boys Indicted for Crimes Tied to Their Brother’s Death

The death of Cornell student George Desdunes at the alleged hands of his frat brothers is now officially a matter of law. Four individuals–three of them known to be former Sigma Alpha Epsilon pledges, and a 19-year-old whose court records are sealed due to his age–were indicted yesterday for charges associated with Desdunes’ demise. The defendants, who pleaded not guilty, have been pegged with the misdemeanor crimes of first-degree hazing and first-degree unlawfully dealing with a child, according to the Cornell Daily Sun. SAE faces the same charges, and representatives of the frat will be summoned to court to deal with them–although considering that SAE has been disbanded at Cornell and its recognition rescinded by the university, it’s not totally clear who’s going to show on its behalf.

The four former frat brothers, among them Max Haskin, Benn Mann, and Edward Williams,  have been released without bail and are now roaming free–although not on Cornell’s campus, since (according to a press release from the county DA) none are enrolled in the school any longer. Presumably they’re counting their lucky stars that they haven’t been charged with anything as serious as manslaughter. Still, the Sun reports that the attorneys plan to “vigorously contest” the allegations, and that the brothers don’t believe they’ve committed any crime.

Details of Desdunes’ death, an event that’s been shrouded in gossipy mystery for weeks, are also beginning to emerge. It’s already common knowledge that he died from alcohol poisoning, but authorities have since asserted that his blood alcohol level was 0.35 percent–more than four times the state’s legal limit. The Wall Street Journal has unearthed more information on the circumstances of this intoxication:

In the early morning hours before his death, Desdunes had consented to a mock kidnapping — a fraternity ritual in which pledges quiz brothers on fraternity lore. Desdunes and another brother had their hands and feet tied with zip ties and duct tape. When they answered questions incorrectly, the pair did exercises or were given drinks like flavored syrup or vodka. Pledges dropped him off at the Ivy League fraternity house after 5 a.m., according to court documents.

SAE has a history of such “kidnappings,” but no word on whether they also have a history of this kind of sadistically fruity bondage. They’ve claimed in the past that their “hazing” activities involve some level of complicity on the victims’ part, but having experienced flavored syrups firsthand, we find it hard to believe that someone would drink them with any degree of willingness. In all seriousness, though, the events of this case will hopefully shed some much-needed light on a form of fraternity stupidity that goes way beyond keg stands and ice luges.

More Tragic News out of Princeton: Softball Player Khristin Kyllo Passes Away

Very sad news out of Princeton. The University reports that freshman Khristin Kyllo was found dead in her dorm room today by its Department of Public Safety. A release from the University stated that Kyllo likely died of natural causes. The Daily Princetonian reports that the 18-year-old hailed from Washington suburb Vienna, VA, and was a member of the Princeton softball team.

This is the second death in just over a week at Princeton. Graduate student Bill Zeller succumbed to injuries from a suicide attempt last Wednesday.

The Washington Post did a write up on Kyllo last May — when she was a senior at James Madison High School — which focused on her battle with an unidentified brain virus. Doctors apparently struggled to diagnose the ailment, which caused seizures, odd behavior, and memory loss. The article did state, however, that the symptoms had died down as treatment kicked in. No word on whether the condition played a role in Kyllo’s death.

RagTime: We All Need a Break Edition

  • Harvard: All had mixed reactions concerning the Harvard-Yale tailgate.
  •  Yale: Found the football game “frustrating.”
  • Penn: Man shot within University’s patrol zone.
  • Cornell: Grapples with how much to spend on suicide response.
  • Princeton: After much controversy, hummus referendum removed from ballot.