Frat officer may avoid trial in drinking death

July 21, 2008 7:07:08 PM PDT
A former Rider University fraternity president charged with hazing in connection with the drinking death of a freshman there last year may avoid a trial if he's accepted into a pretrial intervention program. Michael Torney, 22, of Randolph, faces charges of aggravated hazing in the death of Gary DeVercelly Jr. Torney's lawyer, Edward Bilinkas, informed a judge Monday of his intention to apply for PTI, according to Casey DeBlasio, spokeswoman for the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office.

DeBlasio said her office would not oppose the move, but the final decision rests in the hands of the court. A court date has been set for Sept. 16.

Pretrial intervention allows defendants to follow a supervised rehabilitation program, possibly including community service.

People who go through pretrial intervention, which generally lasts from one to three years, tend to be first-time offenders. When they complete the program, charges are dismissed and the person has no criminal record.

Bilinkas told The Times of Trenton there were "compelling reasons" for his client, who has previously rejected plea deals, to be accepted despite a prior conviction for a marijuana charge.

Two other students charged in the case have already been accepted into the program. Prosecutors initially charged two Rider administrators, but those charges were dropped.

DeVercelly, 18, of Long Beach, Calif., was a pledge at Phi Kappa Tau when he attended a party there on March 28, 2007, and drank most of a bottle of vodka. He 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 have said.

Authorities have said that DeVercelly drank the alcohol as part of a hazing ritual.

His parents are suing Rider, school administrators, the national fraternity, the now-defunct fraternity chapter and individual fraternity members.

In April, Torney agreed to cooperate with Gary and Julie DeVercelly's lawyers and pay the family $150,000 as part of a settlement.