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Penn State frat members appear in court in pledge's death

Written by Travis Johnson/Associated Press | May 9, 2017 4:39 PM
timothy_piazza_penn_state.jpg

This Oct. 31, 2014, photo provided by Patrick Carns shows Timothy Piazza, center, with his parents Evelyn Piazza, left, and James Piazza, right, during Hunterdon Central Regional High School football's "Senior Night" at the high school's stadium in Flemington, N.J. Prosecutors in Pennsylvania are set to announce, Friday, May 5, 2017, the results of a grand jury investigation into the death of the Penn State student, Timothy Piazza, who fell down steps Feb. 4, during an alcohol-fueled pledge ceremony. (Patrick Carns via AP)

(Bellefonte) -- Eight more members of a Penn State University fraternity made their first court appearance Tuesday and were released on bail to await trial on charges stemming from the death of a pledge after an alcohol-fueled hazing ritual.

A Pennsylvania judge arraigned the defendants and set bail at $50,000, but they did not have to post any money.

The members of Beta Theta Pi face a range of charges. Ten other fraternity members who face more serious charges were arraigned Friday.

Five of the defendants in court Tuesday are accused of evidence tampering. Two are accused of hazing, alcohol law violations and reckless endangerment.

The lawyer for Joseph Ems Jr., 20, who faces only a reckless endangerment charge, called it a tragic and sad case and expressed condolences the family of victim Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old engineering student from Lebanon, New Jersey.

"It's important to remember as tragic as this case is, my client's a wonderful young man that's never been in trouble," said Ems' attorney, William Brennan. "I think as the facts shake out, my client hopefully will be in a position to be extricated from this troubling case."

Piazza died less than two days after falling and hitting his head several times after a pledge acceptance ceremony at the fraternity house in February.

A grand jury said security camera footage captured events inside the house that night, including pledges being ordered to guzzle alcohol quickly after the ceremony. Piazza appeared to become inebriated and fell face-first down a flight of basement steps before midnight.

The footage shows that Piazza fell repeatedly as the evening progressed, the jury wrote. Fraternity brothers made half-hearted and even counterproductive efforts to help him, and when one member strongly advocated for summoning help, he was shoved into a wall and told to leave, the report said.

Piazza apparently fell down the steps again early the next morning but was not discovered until about 10 a.m. Someone called 911 some 40 minutes later. Piazza later died as a result of severe head injuries and suffered other injuries that included internal bleeding from a shattered spleen.

The university on March 30 issued a permanent ban on Beta Theta Pi, which was once regarded as a model fraternity. The school found what it called a "persistent pattern" of excessive drinking, drug use and hazing. The fraternity also has been charged in Piazza's death.

An earlier story appears below.

(Bellefonte) -- Eight more members of a Penn State University fraternity are free on bail to await trial on charges that stem from the death of a pledge after an alcohol-fueled hazing ritual.

A Pennsylvania judge arraigned the defendants on Tuesday and set bail at $50,000. Ten other defendants were arraigned on Friday.

The members of Beta Theta Pi face a range of charges.

Five of the young men who appeared in court Tuesday are accused of evidence tampering. One faces a charge of reckless endangerment.

The other two are accused of hazing, alcohol law violations and reckless endangerment.

All charges relate to the February death of sophomore Timothy Piazza, of Lebanon, New Jersey.

Piazza died after falling and hitting his head several times after a pledge acceptance ceremony.

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