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Video recovered, 10 more charged in Penn State frat death

Written by Mark Scolforo/Associated Press | Nov 13, 2017 3:10 PM
stacy_parks_centre_county_DA.jpg

Centre County district attorney Stacy Parks Miller tells reporters all the fraternity members are accomplices in the death of Timothy Piazza. (Courtesty of Emily Reddy/WPSU).



(Undated) -- Newly recovered security camera footage from inside a Penn State fraternity house showed that a pledge had been given at least 18 drinks over less than 90 minutes, investigators said Monday in announcing dozens of new charges related to the pledge's death.

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller charged 10 new defendants, reinstated charges against two people whose cases had been dropped and added counts against five who had previously been charged for actions surrounding the Feb. 4 death of Beta Theta Pi pledge Tim Piazza. One fraternity member is accused of deleting the video as police were seeking the footage.

Twenty-six people now face charges in the case.

Piazza, a 19-year-old engineering student from Lebanon, New Jersey, suffered a fractured skull, shattered spleen and other injuries, likely during a series of falls that occurred inside the house. He was estimated to have had a blood-alcohol level several times the legal limit for adult drivers.

The house's security system captured many of the events the night Piazza was injured, footage that had already been played at a preliminary hearing for those charged previously. But until recently, that did not include the basement, where Piazza was found the next morning.

A court affidavit said one of the brothers, Braxton Becker, purposely deleted the basement footage two days after Piazza died, but the FBI was able to recover it.

Becker's motive, wrote State College Police Detective David Scicchitano, was to conceal the worst of the drinking and hazing.

Detectives also found a text from Becker the day after the party, saying Piazza "was technically hazed into drinking that much." In another text, Becker used an expletive to say that someone had argued against getting the pledges very drunk "but no one listened."

Becker, 21, of Niskayuna, New York, was charged with evidence tampering, obstruction and hindering a prosecution. His lawyer did not return a message seeking comment.

In a news release, Parks Miller said the basement video "clearly depicts a continuation of the hazing activity previously captured upstairs," including giving pledges beer, wine and vodka.

"In fact, on video, Tim Piazza does not obtain his own alcohol at any point -- rather, every drink consumed was provided to him by a fraternity brother," she said in the news release.

Piazza's father, Jim, said at a news conference that his family was making plans for the holidays without his son.

"Over the last several months we listened to defense arguments centered around victim blaming or how could the defendants have known they were putting someone seriously at risk since no one died before, as if they were entitled to one free death, or the catch all argument of, 'We don't know,'" he said.

He said "coercing someone" to drink as much as his son did "is egregiously reckless and, according to the police and the DA, is criminal."

In September, following an unusually long, hard-fought preliminary hearing, a judge dismissed the most serious charges against the fraternity members. Parks Miller, who is leaving office at the end of the year, then refiled many of the charges.

The most serious offenses include involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault, while others are charged with hazing or alcohol violations.

A lawyer for Joseph Ems, who had previously faced a reckless endangerment charge that was dismissed by the district judge, said he plans to seek dismissal of the three fresh charges against his client: hazing, furnishing alcohol to a minor and an alcohol violation.

"Not every tragedy is a crime," said Ems' lawyer, Bill Brennan. "And as tragic as the loss of this young man is, Joey Ems never should have been charged with a crime."

Messages left for most other defendants or their lawyers were not immediately returned on Monday.
The grand jury that investigated Piazza's death, video footage and preliminary hearing testimony painted a disturbing picture of his final night inside the fraternity house.

Pledges showed signs of intoxication, and Piazza had to be helped to a couch. Piazza subsequently stumbled toward the basement steps, then fell down them.

Over the rest of that evening, fraternity members were recorded pouring liquid on him, strapping a loaded backpack to him and taking other ineffective or counterproductive steps to deal with his condition.

The next morning, fraternity members located Piazza, unconscious, in the basement.

They carried him back upstairs, but it was another 40 minutes before an ambulance was summoned.

An earlier story appears below. 

(Undated) -- Newly recovered security camera footage from inside a Penn State fraternity house showed that a pledge had been given at least 18 drinks over less than 90 minutes, investigators said Monday in announcing dozens of new charges related to the pledge's death.

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller charged 10 new defendants, reinstated charges against two people whose cases had been dropped and added counts against five who had previously been charged for actions surrounding the Feb. 4 death of Beta Theta Pi pledge Tim Piazza. One fraternity member is accused of deleting the video as police were seeking the footage.

Twenty-six people now face charges in the case.

Piazza, a 19-year-old engineering student from Lebanon, New Jersey, suffered a fractured skull, shattered spleen and other injuries, likely during a series of falls that occurred inside the house. He was estimated to have had a blood-alcohol level several times the legal limit for adult drivers.

The house's security system captured many of the events the night Piazza was injured, footage that had already been played at a preliminary hearing for those charged previously. But until recently, that did not include the basement, where Piazza was found the next morning.

The lead detective had said the cameras in the basement did not record the night of Feb. 2-3, according to a grand jury, but Parks Miller said the detective pursued the question further and got help from the FBI to restore the missing footage.

In a news release, Parks Miller said the basement video "clearly depicts a continuation of the hazing activity previously captured upstairs," including giving pledges beer, wine and vodka.

"In fact, on video, Tim Piazza does not obtain his own alcohol at any point -- rather, every drink consumed was provided to him by a fraternity brother," she said in the news release.

Piazza's father, Jim, said at a news conference that his family was making plans for the holidays without his son.

"Over the last several months we listened to defense arguments centered around victim blaming or how could the defendants have known they were putting someone seriously at risk since no one died before, as if they were entitled to one free death, or the catch all argument of, 'We don't know,'" he said.

He said "coercing someone" to drink as much as his son did "is egregiously reckless and, according to the police and the DA, is criminal."

In September, following an unusually long, hard-fought preliminary hearing, a judge dismissed the most serious charges against the fraternity members. Parks Miller, who is leaving office at the end of the year, then refiled many of the charges.

The most serious offenses include involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault, while others are charged with hazing or alcohol violations.

A lawyer for Joseph Ems, who had previously faced a reckless endangerment charge that was dismissed by the district judge, said he plans to seek dismissal of the three fresh charges against his client: hazing, furnishing alcohol to a minor and an alcohol violation.

"Not every tragedy is a crime," said Ems' lawyer, Bill Brennan. "And as tragic as the loss of this young man is, Joey Ems never should have been charged with a crime."

Messages left for most other defendants or their lawyers were not immediately returned on Monday.

The grand jury that investigated Piazza's death painted a disturbing picture of his final night inside the fraternity house.

Pledges showed signs of intoxication, and Piazza had to be helped to a couch, according to the grand jury and witness testimony during a lengthy preliminary hearing. Piazza subsequently stumbled toward the basement steps, then fell down them.

Over the rest of that evening, fraternity members were recorded pouring liquid on him, strapping a loaded backpack to him and taking other ineffective or counterproductive steps to deal with his condition.

The video showed Piazza stumbling around in the dark at several points, then disappearing from view.
The next morning, fraternity members located Piazza, unconscious, in the basement.

They carried him back upstairs, but it was another 40 minutes before an ambulance was summoned.

An earlier story appears below. 

(Undated) -- Investigators on Monday said they recovered deleted security camera footage taken inside a Penn State fraternity house and had filed dozens of new charges in the death of a pledge who consumed a dangerous amount of alcohol and suffered fatal injuries.

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said the new evidence enabled police to determine that Beta Theta Pi pledge Tim Piazza had been given at least 18 drinks over less than 90 minutes.

Piazza, a 19-year-old engineering student from Lebanon, New Jersey, was found to have suffered a fractured skull, shattered spleen and other injuries. His blood-alcohol content was estimated at several times the legal limit for adult drivers.

Miller said the new footage was the basis for charges against 10 additional defendants, as well as seven who had been charged previously. One defendant, a fraternity member, is accused of deleting the video as police were seeking the footage in February.

At least two dozen people now face charges in the case.

The house's security system captured many of the events the night Piazza was injured, footage that had already been played at a preliminary hearing for those charged previously. But until recently, that did not include the basement, where Piazza was found the next morning.

The lead detective had said the cameras in the basement did not record the night of Feb. 2-3, according to a grand jury, but Miller said the detective pursued the question further and got help from the FBI to restore the missing footage.

Piazza and other pledges convened in the basement, which housed a bar, for about an hour after completing what was called "the gauntlet," a series of stations inside the fraternity house where they were instructed to quickly down beer and wine.

A news release from Miller said the basement video "clearly depicts a continuation of the hazing activity previously captured upstairs at the gauntlet," including giving pledges beer, wine and vodka.

"In fact, on video, Tim Piazza does not obtain his own alcohol at any point -- rather, every drink consumed was provided to him by a fraternity brother," she said in the news release.

As they returned to the first floor, the pledges appeared to show signs of intoxication, and Piazza had to be helped to a couch, according to the grand jury and witness testimony during a lengthy preliminary hearing.
Piazza subsequently stumbled toward the basement steps, then fell down them.

Over the rest of that evening, fraternity members were recorded pouring liquid on him, strapping a loaded backpack to him and taking other ineffective or counterproductive steps to deal with his condition.

The video showed Piazza stumbling around in the dark at several points, then disappearing from view.

After someone noticed his shoes were on the first floor the next morning, fraternity members located Piazza, unconscious, in the basement.

They carried him back upstairs, but it was another 40 minutes before an ambulance was summoned.

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