Trial continues over frat death of Clinton Hill teen

Civil case pending in Brooklyn Supreme Court


ITHACA — Testimony is under way in the trial of three men charged in connection with the alcohol-related death of a Cornell University student.


Max Haskin, Benn Mann and Edward Williams are on trial in Ithaca on charges of hazing and unlawfully dealing with a child. The three former frat pledges have pleaded not guilty.


George Desdunes, 19, of Brooklyn was found unconscious at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) house in February 2011 and later pronounced dead. Authorities said his blood-alcohol level was 0.35 percent, more than four times the legal limit for driving.


Prosecutors say Desdunes and another pledge were given cups of vodka to drink when they answered frat history questions incorrectly.


Desdunes' mother filed a multimillion-dollar wrongful-death lawsuit against the national fraternity last June.


Marie Lourdes Andre filed the lawsuit in Kings County Supreme Court against SAE, seeking at least $25 million in damages.


A motion date for that case is scheduled for June 28 before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Karen Rothenberg.


The lawsuit says Desdunes had his hands and feet bound in a mock kidnapping and was made to drink alcohol until he passed out.


One SAE pledge tried to interfere with the crime scene by having the zip ties removed before police arrived, according to a press release sent on behalf of the plaintiff.


“Desdunes’s blood alcohol level was .409, and his death was a result of hazing,” the press release states. Cornell revoked the fraternity’s recognition after the death.


Plaintiff’s attorney Douglas Fierberg stated last year, “No person deserves the indignity of being bound and tied at the wrists, then plied with alcohol, rendered unconscious, and left to die as part of some fraternity ritual. George was a fine young man, raised to be so by his devoted, caring mother, godparents, Queen of All Saints Roman Catholic Church, the Berkeley Carroll School, and this community. George’s death has incited Marie to join the fight against fraternities, their dangerous rituals, and their refusal to stop activities that have killed at least one student every year for the past 40 years.”


Desdunes grew up in Clinton Hill. He attended the Berkeley Carroll School, which is a private K-12 school on Carroll Street in Park Slope. He aspired to become a doctor.


SAE was founded at the University of Alabama in the 1850s. Its website says it consists of 241 chapters with about 11,000 undergraduate members. 


“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,” the mother wrote last year.


—The Associated Press, and Ryan Thompson of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle


May 24, 2012 - 11:36am



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