Judge nearing decision in Penn State frat death hearing

Written by Mark Scolforo/The Associated Press | Aug 31, 2017 3:24 AM

This Oct. 31, 2014, photo provided by Patrick Carns shows Timothy Piazza, center, with his parents Evelyn Piazza, left, and James Piazza, right. (Patrick Carns via AP)

(Harrisburg) --  A district judge in Centre County will soon decide whether prosecutors have presented enough evidence to hold a trial for former members of a now-closed Penn State fraternity charged in connection with a pledge's death.

A preliminary hearing will resume for a seventh day on Thursday.

Attorneys for 11 of the 17 defendants are still waiting to make their final arguments, before District Judge Allen Sinclair will decide whether to send charges to county court for trial.

Former members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity face charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault to hazing and alcohol violations.

On Wednesday, defense lawyers asked Sinclair to dismiss some or all of the charges, arguing their clients didn't act recklessly or maliciously during a night of drinking and hazing.

Lawyers for five of the eight fraternity brothers who face the most serious offenses attacked the prosecution's case.

The lawyer for Brendan Young, who was chapter president the night in February that 19-year-old Tim Piazza, of Lebanon, New Jersey, drank a dangerous amount and fell several times, argued Young saw nothing to make him think the pledge was at risk of dying.

"He wasn't there through the whole night. He did not observe any injuries to Mr. Piazza. He did not observe anything that would lead him to believe that he was at substantial risk," Young's lawyer, Frank Fina, told Sinclair.

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said Young was "in charge of the fraternity" and sent text messages afterward indicating he was responsible.

She said the defendants led Piazza to hazing and excessive speed drinking, aiming to see "how drunk they could get him in the shortest period possible."

That behavior, she argued, meets state standards for criminal liability.

Security cameras showed Piazza spent an excruciating night in the fraternity after he was injured, most of it on a couch in the first-floor great hall, as members made half-hearted and even counterproductive efforts to help him.

Piazza was unconscious by the time he was discovered in the basement the next morning, and he was found to have suffered severe head and abdominal injuries. He later died at a hospital.

Wednesday's hearing began with the final witness, a live-in adviser at the Beta Theta Pi house who said he did not see the alcohol hazing or other events leading to Piazza's death.

Tim Bream, also the football team's head athletic trainer, said he went to his room after watching the pledge ceremony and left for work the next morning without noticing Piazza.

"I in no way, shape or form would give permission to any type of alcohol abuse, gauntlet, or anything like that," said Bream, describing himself as a nondrinker. "Nor did I know about it that evening."

A lawyer for the alumni corporation that owns the house argued to the judge that charges were not properly filed against the entity, when they were aimed at the fraternity chapter that was run by the active members, college students.

Parks Miller said she "the local chapter has been charged and they're charged with a corporate theory of liability."

Two other defendants have waived their preliminary hearing.

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