Judge pon­ders re­in­stated charges in Penn St. frat death case

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - By Mark Scol­foro

BELLEFONTE, PA. » A pros­e­cu­tor on Thurs­day sharply crit­i­cized a judge over her han­dling of the case against former Penn State fra­ter­nity mem­bers charged in a pledge’s drink­ing death.

“While this case may be un­usual and novel in com­plex­ity and num­ber of de­fen­dants, the court has an obli­ga­tion to han­dle it prop­erly and be fair to both sides,” Cen­tre County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Stacy Parks Miller wrote in a state­ment. “To date, it has failed mis­er­ably.”

Parks Miller was not in the court­room as her sev­en­page news re­lease was sent out to re­porters at the same time that Com­mon Pleas Court Judge Pamela Ruest was pre­sid­ing over a hear­ing on whether to re­in­state se­ri­ous charges in the case that have been dis­missed.

Parks Miller said Ruest would not let her par­tic­i­pate by phone from out of town.

De­fense lawyers ar­gued the state­ment was highly in­ap­pro­pri­ate and their clients were harmed by it.

“This press re­lease vi­o­lates the rules of pro­fes­sional con­duct six dif­fer­ent ways from Sun­day,” de­fense at­tor­ney Michael En­gle told the judge, ask­ing her to raise the mat­ter with the body that in­ves­ti­gates lawyer mis­con­duct.

De­fense at­tor­ney Frank Fina said Parks Miller was en­gaged in a type of “pub­lic lit­i­ga­tion” that com­pro­mised the de­fen­dants’ rights.

“A pros­e­cu­tor de­ploy­ing out­side in­flu­ences to try and get his or her way in­side the court­room — it’s in­her­ently con­trary to the en­tire struc­ture of the sys­tem, the en­tire way it’s sup­posed to be,” Fina ar­gued.

Ruest has to de­cide whether to let pros­e­cu­tors con­tinue with re­in­stated charges in the case, and if she should ap­point a new mag­is­te­rial dis­trict judge to han­dle those re-filed charges in the Feb. 4 death of 19-year-old Tim Pi­azza of Le­banon, New Jer­sey. She did not in­di­cate Thurs­day when she will rule.

Twenty-six peo­ple cur­rently face crim­i­nal charges re­lated to Pi­azza’s death, which oc­curred two days af­ter he suf­fered a se­ries of falls and con­sumed a dan­ger­ous amount of al­co­hol dur­ing a pledge bid night at the Penn State chap­ter of Beta Theta Pi. Some fra­ter­nity mem­bers face charges that could re­sult in prison terms, while oth­ers are ac­cused of haz­ing and al­co­hol vi­o­la­tions.

Af­ter an un­usu­ally hard­fought pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing, which lasted seven days over three months, Dis­trict Judge Allen Sinclair on Sept. 1 threw out many of the charges, in­clud­ing the most se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions of in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter and ag­gra­vated as­sault. The dis­trict at­tor­ney sub­se­quently re­filed many of those counts and sought a new judge.

Sinclair “sim­ply did not un­der­stand the the­ory and made many in­con­gru­ous rul­ings by bind­ing over some charges and dis­miss­ing oth­ers,” pros­e­cu­tor Michael Oster­berg ar­gued to Ruest.

De­fense at­tor­neys told Ruest that Sinclair’s de­ci­sion did not amount to le­gal er­ror, so the dis­missed charges should not be re­vived.

“Just be­cause you dis­agree with the judge’s rul­ing doesn’t give you a sec­ond bite,” ar­gued de­fense at­tor­ney Ted Si­mon.

Sinclair also ruled there was ev­i­dence to send other charges to for trial, and they are cur­rently pend­ing in county court.

PHOEBE SHEE­HAN — CEN­TRE DAILY TIMES VIA AP, FILE

Dis­trict Judge Allen Sinclair ar­rives for the seventh day of pre­lim­i­nary hear­ings at the Cen­tre County Court­house in Bellefonte, Pa.

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