Rider officials may not face hazing charges
Prosecutor’s motion to dismiss may be heard today
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
BY DARRYL R. ISHERWOOD
Two Rider University officials likely won’t face charges, after all, in the alcohol-poisoning death of a fraternity pledge last spring.
The Mercer County prosecutor has moved for a dismissal of aggra vated hazing charges against Dean of Students Anthony Campbell and Director of Greek Life Ada Badg ley, who were indicted earlier this month in the death of freshman Gary DeVercelly Jr., 18.
hrough a spokesman, county Prosecutor Joseph L. Bocchini Jr. declined to comment on his request for dismissal of the fourth-de gree felony charges against Campbell and Badgley. Bocchini’s mo tion was not available yesterday and court administrators said they had not seen it. Oral arguments on the request are expected to be heard this morning.
“We have filed the motion to be heard (today) at 10 a.m.,” said Assistant Prosecutor Angelo Onofri, adding that Bocchini and four assistants had reviewed the motion. “At that time, we will place our reasons on the record for our request to dismiss the charges.”
The indictments against Campbell and Badgley and three stu dents were handed up Aug. 4 by a grand jury investigating the Long Beach, Calif., native’s death March 30 following a night of binge drinking that was part of a fraternity initiation event. Indictments against the students still stand.
Reached yesterday, Campbell’s attorney said he was confident Judge Maria M. Sypek would dismiss the charges against the dean, who is a top administrator at the Lawrence university.
“I am pleased that the prosecutor’s office has determined to do the right thing and dismiss the charges against Dean Campbell,” said attorney Rocco Cipparone Jr. “I have reviewed the grand jury transcripts in great detail, and I have determined that there is cer tainly not probable cause to serve as the basis for the indictment, which also means of course there is no proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Cipparone said he was disappointed that the indictment has “sullied” Campbell’s name and said he hoped the dismissal would be worded to remove all doubt of Campbell’s involvement.
Badgley’s attorney said the indictment has been hard on the 30-year-old administrator and said she should not have been charged.
“She was completely unaware of the facts that led to this death,” said attorney David M. Laigaie. “She didn’t know the fraternity was having a party, the fraternity didn’t register the party, she had no idea that alcohol would be provided to new members or that new members would be permitted to drink. I don’t know how you could be guilty of a crime that you didn’t participate in and didn’t know anything about.”
A spokesman for the university said officials would issue a statement sometime today.
Campbell and Badgley are be lieved to be the only administrators ever charged criminally in a hazing death, and legal and education ex perts have been watching anxiously as the case has unfolded. Prosecutors have said neither Campbell nor Badgley were present during the fraternity party and neither participated in the hazing.
eVercelly died March 30 after a night of drinking at the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house, which was on the university’s Lawrence campus.
The freshman had been taking part in a pledge initiation at the house and allegedly consumed three-quarters of a bottle of vodka as part of the Big Brother Little Brother ritual. DeVercelly went into cardiac arrest and was revived by paramedics. He was rushed to the hospital with a blood alcohol content of 0.426. He died the following day.
The two officials were charged along with three students who were officers in the fraternity at the time of DeVercelly’s death: a student house manager, 22; fraternity president Michael Torney, 21; and pledge master Dominic Olsen, 21.
All five were indicted by a Mercer County grand jury on Aug. 4 and have since pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry a maxi mum penalty of 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine. All were due back in court Sept. 10.
Attorney Douglas Fierberg, who has been retained by DeVercelly’s parents, said they were surprised by the prosecutor’s actions.
“We are extremely concerned about this action because we have reason to believe there was significant involvement by at least one university employee in the death of Gary,” said Fierberg, referring to the fraternity house manager who was employed by the university. “Certainly we do not have access to all of the evidence available to the prosecutors, so it is dif- ficult to comment on the specifics.”
In a statement issued after the indictments were announced, Gary DeVercelly Sr., and his wife, Julie DeVercelly, chastised the university and said they were shocked that an employee was present while their son was hazed.
Both Campbell and Badgley have received solid support from students and administrators since their indictments and each was granted a paid leave of absence to prepare a defense. More than 1,000 past and current students registered support of the two on www.facebook.com and in letters and e-mails to the university.
In the wake of DeVercelly’s death, the university formed a task force to recommend changes to Rider’s alcohol, residence and fraternity policies. As part of the recommendations made by the group, the university has hired residence managers to live in each fraternity house to assist the student house managers.
After the indictments, university President Mordechai Rozanski announced that Phi Kappa Tau had been closed on the campus.