N.J. judge drops hazing charges in case of Greek pledge’s death

By Tom Hester

TRENTON, N.J. – A judge Tuesday dismissed charges against two Rider University officials in a case involving the drinking death of a fraternity pledge.

Superior Court Judge Maria Sypek approved a request by Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini Jr. to dismiss the aggravated hazing counts against Dean of Students Anthony Campbell and Ada Badgley, the university’s director of Greek life.

The two administrators and three Rider students were indicted on Aug. 3 in connection with the death of freshman Gary DeVercelly Jr., 18, of Long Beach, Calif.

However, prosecutors said they decided there wasn’t enough evidence to take the officials to trial.

“We could not meet our burden of proof,” Assistant Prosecutor Skylar Weissman said.

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    DeVercelly died March 30, a day after drinking at a party at the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity on the private college’s campus. Authorities said he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.426 percent, more than five times New Jersey’s legal limit for driving.

    Badgley was not aware of the events that led to DeVercelley’s death, said her attorney, David Laigaie.

    “Ms. Badgley cannot be guilty of a crime for something that she did not participate in or have knowledge of,” Laigaie said.

    Campbell’s attorney, Rocco Cipparone Jr., welcomed Tuesday’s decision as “the correct and only result.”

    Bocchini has declined to elaborate on why the two administrators were charged, saying only that he stood by the grand jury’s decision to indict. He has noted that the criminal code lists facilitating as a factor that can lead to a hazing charge.

    After the judge’s ruling Tuesday, Rider President Mordechai Rozanski said the school would work to implement a new alcohol ban in residence halls, fraternity and sorority houses, as well as a new online alcohol education program for all freshmen. “It is our desire that Rider University stand as a model in the fight to combat alcohol abuse on campus,” he said.

    DeVercelly’s father, Gary DeVercelly Sr., decried the decision to drop the charges.

    “We’re upset about it, that the charges are being dismissed, because we feel that Rider has responsibility – definitely has responsibility – in this issue,” he said in a phone interview from California.

    He said no decision has been made whether to file a civil lawsuit against Rider University.

    The three students still face charges and have pleaded not guilty. If convicted, they could face up to 18 months in prison.

    Campbell and Badgley, who took leaves of absence, will return to work this week, their attorneys said.