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Updated: 11/14/2017 01:19:00AM

Prosecutors charge more Penn State frat members in hazing death

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PHILADELPHIA — Prosecutors on Monday charged five more Pennsylvania State University fraternity members with felonies in connection with fraternity pledge Tim Piazza’s hazing death, after recovering footage they say had been deleted from a frat house security camera.

In addition, Centre County District Attorney Stacey Parks Miller said one already charged member of the now-defunct Beta Theta Pi fraternity — Braxton Becker, 20, of Niskayuna, N.Y. — would face new counts for deleting the video in an attempt to frustrate the investigation.

“We know exactly what time it was deleted,” she told reporters at a news conference in Bellefonte. “It was while police were in the house.”

That missing video had bedeviled investigators since early in the investigation. FBI analysts were finally able to recover it from the hard drive on which it had been stored, Parks Miller said.

It depicts more fraternity members participating in a booze-fueled initiation ritual known as The Gauntlet, including a beer pong station where Piazza was handed beer after beer to shotgun with other members of his pledge class.

“Every drink consumed was provided to him by a fraternity brother,” Parks Miller said. “Based on the video, Tim Piazza was furnished with at least 18 drinks in 1 hour and 22 minutes.”

In addition to those charged with involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault on Monday, Parks Miller filed misdemeanor hazing cases against an additional six fraternity members and added new counts to the cases against many of the 14 already charged.

As the district attorney described that scene, Piazza’s parents stood by shaking their heads. Later, the pledge’s father — James Piazza — thanked Parks Miller and the State College police for their continued pursuit of the investigation.

“Hazing is illegal and justice needs to be served,” he said. “It’s time to man up, fellas, and face accountability for your actions.”

Since his death in February, the circumstances surrounding Piazza’s final hours have roiled the university and its Greek system. Footage obtained from elsewhere in the fraternity house helped Parks Miller’s build the case and chronicled the harrowing last hours of the sophomore engineering student from New Jersey as he drunkenly stumbled into walls, passed out for hours and repeatedly fell down a flight of basement stairs. All the while, the footage shows, other fraternity members either ignored or jokingly beat and slapped the engineering student with none calling for help until late the next morning. Piazza died a day later.

But the case has prompted backlash from the charged Beta Theta Pi members and their lawyers, who contend their clients never intended to harm Piazza. They have accused Parks Miller of overreaching in one of the largest hazing-related prosecutions in the nation’s history — and managed to convince a Centre County magistrate judge with the same arguments.

In September, Judge Allen Sinclair gutted the prosecution’s case, throwing out the most serious felony charges against the fraternity members and saying prosecutors had not presented enough evidence to support them.

Parks Miller has vowed to push forward with the case and refiled those felony counts last month.

She has asked that the case be reassigned to another judge, but she is working against the clock. She lost a primary election in the spring and is set to leave office in January. Her successor - Bernie Cantorna - has not said whether or not he intends to proceed with the prosecution.

Speaking Monday, Parks Miller declined to discuss Sinclair’s actions but said that the delays it caused had caused her prosecution to “fall off the rails.”

Piazza died Feb. 4 - two days after the party - of a head injury, a ruptured spleen, and a collapsed lung.

In all, 25 Beta Theta Pi members now face charges.

Those charged Monday with the most serious offenses - involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault - are Joshua Kurczewski, Ryan Burke, Jonathan Kanzler, Bohan Song and Aiden O’Brien.

The six others charged Monday with misdemeanors including hazing and providing alcohol to minors include: Joseph Ems, Brian Gelb, Patrick Jackson, Reggie Goeke, Mike Fernandez and Donald Prior.

All are due in court for arraignments Nov. 28.

Those previously charged with felony crimes include: Luke Visser, 19, of Encinitas, Calif.; Joseph Sala, 19, of Erie; Beta Theta Pi fraternity president Brendan Young, 21, of Malvern; pledge master Daniel Casey, 19, of Ronkonkoma, N.Y.; Gary DiBileo, 21, of Scranton; Nick Kubera, 19, of Downingtown; Michael Bonatucci, 19, of Woodstock, Ga.; and Jonah Neuman, 19, of Nashville.


©2017 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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PHOTO (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194): Tim Piazza


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