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Frat members push back in pledge death case

Written by Mark Scolforo/Associated Press | Jul 11, 2017 3:17 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) -- Lawyers for Penn State fraternity members accused in the death of a pledge are trying to chip away at the prosecution's case, hoping to get some or all of the charges dismissed before trial.

A preliminary hearing in the case against 18 brothers and the now-shuttered Beta Theta Pi chapter finished its third day of testimony Tuesday, with two more sessions tentatively scheduled for next month.

The first witness, the lead detective in the February death of sophomore engineering student Tim Piazza, is still on the stand.

Defense attorneys have been trying to show their clients weren't participants in some of the events that preceded Piazza's death.

During an earlier session, the judge was shown surveillance video from the night of February 2, when Piazza ingested large amounts of alcohol and then was injured in a series of falls.

The chapter and some of the defendants are accused of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault. Others face less serious allegations. Two defendants waived the hearing.

An earlier story appears below. 

(Bellefonte) -- A police detective was questioned for a third day Tuesday about the events at a Penn State fraternity house earlier this year that led to the death of a 19-year-old pledge who endured a series of falls during a night of heavy drinking.

Lawyers for members of the now-shuttered Beta Theta Pi house have been pressing State College police Detective Dave Scicchitano about his investigation into the pledge ceremony and subsequent party that preceded the February 4 death of Tim Piazza, of Lebanon, New Jersey.

Among the issues is whether Piazza, a sophomore engineering student, would have felt pressured into drinking as he and other pledges were directed through a series of drinking stations involving beer, wine and vodka.

Scicchitano said joining in the drinking was a "rite of passage and the way to get in" to the fraternity.

The defense attorneys have also questioned Scicchitano about whether Piazza fell down a set of basement steps the next morning or could have walked down. The detective said both scenarios are possible.

Fraternity members who found Piazza in the basement and carried him back upstairs waited about 40 minutes before calling 911. Piazza later died at a hospital, and authorities have said he suffered severe head and abdominal injuries and had consumed a dangerous amount of alcohol.

The hearing is for the fraternity chapter and 16 of its members. Some are accused of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault, while others face less serious allegations. Two defendants waived the hearing.

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said Tuesday the hearing was likely to stretch another day or two, given the number of defendants. She said Scicchitano will be her only witness.

The judge will decide if prosecutors have put on enough evidence to send the charges to county court for trial.

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