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RIT rugby players acquitted: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Here is their story:

Henrietta Town Justice John G. Pericak has acquitted five Rochester Institute of Technology students of hazing and other charges.

“It appears there was a rush to judgment in this matter,” Pericak wrote in his 12-page decision.

The RIT students — veteran members of the school’s rugby team — were accused of pressuring new players to drink dangerous amounts of alcohol. The following defendants were found not guilty of first-degree hazing and unlawfully dealing with a child, both misdemeanors: Jennifer P. Salavarrieta of Piscataway, N.J.; Marie E. Krysak of Endicott, Broome County; Kerry E. Gallagher of Stratham, N.H.; Katelyn M. Temple of South Winton Road, Henrietta; and Lindsay L. Thompson of Mamaroneck, Westchester County.

The charges stem from a party in May 2007 after which six RIT students — two men and four women — were hospitalized for heavy drinking. The victims were taken to Strong Memorial Hospital. All recovered, but some spent time in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

Three players on the men’s rugby team also were charged in the case. Two of the male defendants pleaded guilty in Henrietta Town Court and were sentenced to community service. The case of a third male defendant was handled in Rochester City Court.

The women’s bench trial took place on Sept. 8 and 9.

“In this court’s opinion, the evidence presented at trial falls far short of the type of specific instances of conduct required for a conviction,” Pericak wrote in his decision.

For example, the only evidence about the organization of the event was an e-mail sent to several of the players. The e-mail noted that the event would involve alcohol, but also said: “If you do not drink alcohol or don’t drink a lot, we can work around that.”

Pericak noted that one of the victims testified that veteran players gave instructions, but she could not recall which one. She was asked why she consumed so much alcohol.

“I thought it would be fun,” she testified, adding she did not feel compelled to drink.

Another victim testified that she could not name any of the veteran players who gave her alcohol. And she testified that she “drank because she chose to.”

Another victim testified that a veteran player who was not charged in the case made her drink alcohol. She also testified that she thought that if she didn’t drink she would be teased or not allowed to play. But Pericak doubted her credibility because of inconsistencies with previous statements.

Thomas A. DeSimon, Gallagher’s lawyer, said in an e-mailed message: “I believe that the decision was thoughtful and well-reasoned.”

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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