Text messages take center stage at hearing over death of Penn State pledge

Written by Emily Reddy/WPSU | Jul 11, 2017 5:12 AM

Thomas Kline, the lawyer for Timothy Piazza's parents, spoke to reporters at the end of the second day of preliminary hearings. (Emily Reddy/WPSU)

(Bellefonte) -- The preliminary hearing continues Tuesday for 18 Penn State fraternity members in the hazing-related death of pledge Timothy Piazza. 

Centre County DA Stacy Parks Miller spent the morning on Monday outlining the involvement of each Beta Theta Pi member charged in Piazza's death. They face charges that include aggravated assault and reckless endangerment.

Parks Miller used fraternity members' text messages and surveillance video to paint a picture of men who knew they were breaking the rules by hazing and giving minors alcohol. After Piazza's fall down a flight of stairs following the completion of a "gauntlet" of drinking stations, the text messages showed defendants worrying about getting kicked out of their house and about going to jail.

Beta Theta Pi pledge master Daniel Casey texted his girlfriend "I don't want to go to jail for this" and "I think after this we could be kicked off."

Thomas Kline is the lawyer for Piazza's parents. Kline dismissed a defense attorney's argument that Piazza made the choice to drink.

"This is a case--make no mistake about it--of alcohol poisoning, not of drinking," Kline said. "There was a ritual that was involved. It was carefully and strategically planned and executed."

In the morning after Piazza's fall--in the more than 40 minutes between when fraternity members found Piazza unconscious and cold and when they called police--members of Beta Theta Pi Googled "falling asleep after a head injury" and "cold extremities in drunk people." Texts also showed them talking about deleting the group messages where they had planned the pledge initiation night. 

The preliminary hearing is scheduled to conclude Tuesday, but lawyers for fifteen fraternity members have yet to do cross-examinations. 

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