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Brooklyn mom of Cornell student who died in alcohol-related fraternity hazing feels betrayed by pledges’ acquittal

She will pursue civil suit after upstate judge clears three of hazing charges


George Desdunes

The Brooklyn mom of a Cornell University student who died in a booze-fueled fraternity hazing feels betrayed by the judicial system after three men were acquitted in her son’s death.

But Marie Lourdes Andre will not stop pursuing justice for her son, George Desdunes, in civil court, her attorney said Wednesday.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed in the verdict, but the criminal justice system and the civil justice system work differently,” Andre’s lawyer, William Friedlander, said.

Desdunes, 19, who aspired to be a doctor, died of alcohol poisoning in February 2011 after pledges at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house bound his wrists and ankles with zip ties and duct tape and poured cups of booze down his throat.

He was found unconscious and still tied up the next morning on a couch at the fraternity house.

Three freshmen frat pledges — Max Haskin, Ben Mann and Edward Williams — were all acquitted Tuesday of misdemeanor hazing charges by Tompkins County Judge Judith Rossiter, who presided over their bench trial.

Friedlander said Andre was “very upset” about the verdict but added: “She’s looking forward to seeing that justice is done in the civil action.”

Andre has filed a $25 million wrongful-death suit against Sigma Alpha Epsilon, a national fraternity, and 20 of its former members. The suit charges that the frat should have known about the dangers of binge drinking and hazing.

The suit also said that one pledge tried to cut the zip ties before cops showed up.

No one in the Cornell administration was named as a defendant in the civil case. Cornell officials swiftly moved to revoke recognition of the fraternity and close its frat house.

“We don’t think this has any impact on the civil case,” Friedlander said of the acquittals. “The civil case is still going ahead and still gives us an opportunity to hold the fraternity and the others accountable for their actions.”

Haskin’s attorney, Raymond Schlather, said that Rossiter’s decision has been a vindication for all three young men.

“They did not haze George Desdunes or cause his death,” Schlather told the Ithaca Journal, adding that despite the verdict there are no winners in the case.

“The family of George Desdunes has lost a son, and these young pledges were unnecessarily scapegoated, and their lives have been irreparably damaged,” Schlather said.

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