Video re­cov­ered, 10 more charged in Penn State frat death

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Mark Scol­foro

Newly re­cov­ered se­cu­rity cam­era footage from inside a Penn State fra­ter­nity house showed that a pledge had been given at least 18 drinks over less than 90 min­utes, in­ves­ti­ga­tors said Mon­day in an­nounc­ing dozens of new charges re­lated to the pledge’s death.

Cen­tre County District At­tor­ney Stacy Parks Miller charged 10 new de­fen­dants, re­in­stated charges against two peo­ple whose cases had been dropped and added counts against five who had pre­vi­ously been charged for ac­tions sur­round­ing the Feb. 4 death of Beta Theta Pi pledge Tim Pi­azza. One fra­ter­nity mem­ber is ac­cused of delet­ing the video as po­lice were seek­ing the footage.

Twenty-six peo­ple now face charges in the case.

Pi­azza, a 19-year-old en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent from Le­banon, New Jer­sey, suf­fered a frac­tured skull, shat­tered spleen and other in­juries, likely dur­ing a se­ries of falls that oc­curred inside the house. He was es­ti­mated to have had a blood-al­co­hol level sev­eral times the le­gal limit for adult driv­ers.

The house’s se­cu­rity sys­tem cap­tured many of the events the night Pi­azza was in­jured, footage that had al­ready been played at a pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing for those charged pre­vi­ously. But un­til re­cently, that did not in­clude the base­ment, where Pi­azza was found the next morn­ing.

A court af­fi­davit said one of the broth­ers, Brax­ton Becker, pur­posely deleted the base­ment footage two days af­ter Pi­azza died, but the FBI was able to re­cover it.

Becker’s mo­tive, wrote State Col­lege Po­lice De­tec­tive David Sci­c­chi­tano, was to con­ceal the worst of the drink­ing and haz­ing.

De­tec­tives also found a text from Becker the day af­ter the party, say­ing Pi­azza “was tech­ni­cally hazed into drink­ing that much.” In an­other text, Becker used an ex­ple­tive to say that some­one had ar­gued against get­ting the pledges very drunk “but no one lis­tened.”

Becker, 21, of Niskayuna, New York, was charged with ev­i­dence tam­per­ing, ob­struc­tion and hin­der­ing a pros­e­cu­tion. His lawyer did not re­turn a mes­sage seek­ing com­ment.

In a news re­lease, Parks Miller said the base­ment video “clearly de­picts a con­tin­u­a­tion of the haz­ing ac­tiv­ity pre­vi­ously cap­tured up­stairs,” in­clud­ing giv­ing pledges beer, wine and vodka.

“In fact, on video, Tim Pi­azza does not ob­tain his own al­co­hol at any point — rather, ev­ery drink con­sumed was pro­vided to him by a fra­ter­nity brother,” she said in the news re­lease.

Pi­azza’s fa­ther, Jim, said at a news con­fer­ence that his fam­ily was mak­ing plans for the hol­i­days with­out his son.

“Over the last sev­eral months we lis­tened to de­fense ar­gu­ments cen­tered around vic­tim blam­ing or how could the de­fen­dants have known they were putting some­one se­ri­ously at risk since no one died be­fore, as if they were en­ti­tled to one free death, or the catch all ar­gu­ment of, ‘We don’t know,’” he said.

He said “co­erc­ing some­one” to drink as much as his son did “is egre­giously reck­less and, ac­cord­ing to the po­lice and the DA, is crim­i­nal.”

In Septem­ber, fol­low­ing an un­usu­ally long, hard­fought pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing, a judge dis­missed the most se­ri­ous charges against the fra­ter­nity mem­bers. Parks Miller, who is leav­ing of­fice at the end of the year, then re­filed many of the charges.

The most se­ri­ous of­fenses in­clude in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter and ag­gra­vated as­sault, while oth­ers are charged with haz­ing or al­co­hol vi­o­la­tions.

A lawyer for Joseph Ems, who had pre­vi­ously faced a reck­less en­dan­ger­ment charge that was dis­missed by the district judge, said he plans to seek dis­missal of the three fresh charges against his client: haz­ing, fur­nish­ing al­co­hol to a mi­nor and an al­co­hol vi­o­la­tion.

“Not ev­ery tragedy is a crime,” said Ems’ lawyer, Bill Bren­nan. “And as tragic as the loss of this young man is, Joey Ems never should have been charged with a crime.”

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