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 on a couch at the SAE fraternity house on Feb. 25 and later died at Cayuga Medical Center.
Desdunes, 19, who was a brother in SAE, participated in a mock kidnapping before his death, according to 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 documents stated.
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 Associated Press.
All four defendants have been released without bail, the AP reported.
Desdunes was provided alcohol “while in the care of certain members and associate members” of SAE and became incapacitated, Vice President of Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy ’73 stated in March.
“Even though the members and associate members recognized the condition Desdunes was in, they failed to call for medical care. He subsequently died,” Murphy said.
After his death, authorities discovered Desdunes’ blood alcohol level was 0.35, according to court documents. By comparison, the legal limit to drive in New York State is 0.08.
Jon Blechman, who is representing Mann, said his client does not believe he did anything wrong.
“We plan to vigorously contest the charges,” Blechman said. “We don’t believe he committed any crime here.”
The defendants’ lawyers also emphasized that their clients are not being charged with Desdunes’ death.
“The grand jury, after a full and thorough investigation, has determined that none of these young men is responsible for the death of George Desdunes,” Haskin’s attorney, Ray Schlather, told the AP.
Attorneys for the other defendants could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
The SAE fraternity faces the same misdemeanor charges as the four defendants do. A summons will be issued for representatives of the fraternity to face the charges, District Attorney Wilkinson said.
The University withdrew recognition of SAE in March, forcing the fraternity’s members to vacate the house by the end of that month. Additionally, the SAE national organization closed the Cornell chapter and suspended all its members until they graduate.
Also in March, six freshmen who were pledging SAE when Desdunes died left campus. Administrators and former SAE members declined to say whether the students faced disciplinary action or left campus voluntarily.
University Registrar Cassandra Dembosky declined on Thursday to provide the enrollment status of any student, citing University policy.
The four people who were charged with misdemeanors are not currently enrolled students, and it is unclear whether the other students who left campus in March will face any charges of their own.
The 16 former SAE pledges who remain on campus recently began pledging the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, several students told The Sun last week. University rules do not prohibit them from participating in the Greek system, despite the removal of recognition from their former fraternity.