A Rider University student pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to an aggravated hazing charge in connection with the binge drinking death of a freshman earlier this spring. Adriano DiDonato, 22, of Princeton, did not speak during the arraignment at the Mercer County Courthouse as his lawyer Paul Norris entered a not guilty plea on his behalf. A second student, Dominic Olsen, 21, of Kenilworth, who was originally scheduled to be arraigned along with DiDonato had his hearing delayed until next week, said Mercer County Prosecutor spokeswoman Casey DeBlasio.
Speaking after the court hearing, Norris said that his client was devastated by the death of Gary DeVercelly Jr., of Long Beach, Calif.
"This is a tragic event and by no means does Adriano minimize what happened here," Norris said. "He's very sad about what happened, as is the rest of the fraternity."
DeVercelly had a blood-alcohol level of 0.426 percent, or more than five times New Jersey's legal limit for driving, when he was pronounced dead March 30 at a Trenton hospital, authorities said. He died one day after drinking at a party at the Phi Kappa Tau house on the private school's campus in central New Jersey.
The party, according to prosecutors, was a special event in which pledges such as DeVercelly would drink with fraternity members. Some of the pledges drank entire bottles of hard liquor in under an hour, prosecutors have said.
Olsen was the pledge master of the fraternity's spring 2007 pledge class, and DiDonato was the fraternity's residence director and house master.
Two school officials and a third student were also charged in connection with DeVercelly's death: Ada Badgley, 31, the university's director of Greek life; Anthony Campbell, 51, the dean of students; and Michael J. Torney, 21, the fraternity chapter president.
The indictments mark one of the first times that university officials have been criminally charged in a suspected hazing death, according Doug Fierberg, a lawyer retained by DeVercelly's parents, who has represented hazing victims since the mid-1990s.
Torney and Campbell were to be arraigned Thursday, while no date had yet been set for Badgley's court appearance, DeBlasio said.
Jonathan Meer, Rider's vice president of university advancement, said Tuesday that no decision had been made about the employment status of the two school officials.
If convicted, the officials and fraternity members would face a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
The school dissolved the Phi Kappa Tau chapter last Friday.