In thinking about the trial happening this week in Ithaca, New York related to the hazing death of George Desdunes, I am pulled back to the movie A Few Good Men. (Click here for The Cornell Daily Sun’s coverage of Day Four and the closing arguments.)
It is easy to make to connection that Haskin, Mann and Williams are the Dawson and Downey of this case. They were given an assignment from a perceived superior, and in carrying out that order accidentally killed the target. However, in this case, I don’t know where they can find a Col. Jessup. I don’t see anyone asking, or answering, the question, “did you order the Code Red?”
The other issue that has come to mind for me is the reality that these three young men are being tried for hazing during an activity when they were being hazed. Much of what I have read indicates that the active members (including Desdunes and Wyler) were in charge of the situation, and putting significant pressure on these guys to perform illegal activities. While George Desdunes ended up dead, he was actually the one doing the hazing, not being hazed.
Like in the movie, Haskin, Mann and Williams do have a degree of responsibility for the death of their target. They cannot argue that they “did nothing wrong” and “were only following orders.” They should (and likely will) be found guilty of hazing. However, what is missing is the Col. Jessup in this case. Someone order the “Code Red” from within the leadership of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at Cornell. Or more likely, the entire active membership is responsible for the “Code Red.” Which then draws the line to the advisors, SAE HQ, institution, and others. Perhaps those connections will be examined in the civil case.
One more note – as was noted prior to the start of the trial, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter was also listed as a defendant in this case. However, according to one report, no one showed up in court to represent the chapter. This hasn’t been mentioned in the daily reports, but I would expect it to be included in the judge’s decision.