Magisterial District Judge Carmine Prestia dismissed all involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment charges that the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office tried to reinstate against six defendants in the February 2017 death of Penn State sophomore Timothy Piazza.
Brendan Young, Daniel Casey and Jonah Neuman all faced involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment charges in the preliminary hearing that took place earlier this week. In his ruling on Friday, Prestia wrote that the evidence “is insufficient to support the charges.”
Michael Bonatucci, Nick Kubera and Joshua Kurczewski were charged with reckless endangerment among other hazing-related counts. The judge has cleared them of those charges, citing once again insufficient evidence to prove reckless endangerment.
Judges have repeatedly thrown out the most serious charges brought by prosecutors in this case. Judge Allen Sinclair and Judge Steve Lachman reached the same ruling in earlier proceedings.
However, Judge Prestia decided each of these six defendants should face one count of conspiracy to commit hazing. Prestia wrote the former fraternity brothers “planned with others and participated in hazing rituals both in 2016 and 2017.”
In court, Senior Deputy Attorney General Brian Zarallo argued that the former Beta Theta Pi brothers conspired and committed hazing, forcing pledges to consume as much alcohol as rapidly as possible as part of bid acceptance.
Piazza died from injuries he suffered after falling down a flight of stairs in the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house on bid acceptance night, where he was one of the pledges. Prosecutors say he was given 18 drinks in 82 minutes and that fraternity brothers didn’t call 911 for help until the next morning.
Braxton Becker, the house manager who prosecutors allege deleted the security footage in the basement of the fraternity house, has been cleared of all three charges against him. Prestia said that the evidence could not directly point to Becker as the person who manually deleted the data off of the DVR system in the house.
Tom Kline, the lawyer for the Piazza family, said in a statement that the Piazzas “remain steadfast and resolute in their support of the Pennsylvania Attorney General seeking to achieve a full measure of justice in the tragic death of their son.”
Kline said the conspiracy charges are “a significant advancement towards accountability for those who caused Tim’s death.”
With the exception of Becker, all defendants in this hearing will go to a trial scheduled for next February.
The remaining charges held over for court by Prestia after this week’s two-day hearing, broken down by individual defendants:
Brendan Young, of Malvern, Pa.: 30 counts of hazing, a third-degree misdemeanor, stemming from Young’s role in planning fraternity activities in 2016 and 2017.
Daniel Casey, Ronkonkoma, N.Y.: 30 counts of hazing stemming from his role in planning fraternity activities in 2016 and 2017.
Michael Bonatucci, Woodstock, Ga.: One count of hazing, stemming from Bonatucci’s particiaption in the February 2017 drinking gauntlet.
Jonah Neuman, Nashville, Tenn.: One count of hazing, stemming from Neuman’s participation in the February 2017 drinking gauntlet.
Nick Kubera, Downingtown, Pa.: One count of hazing, stemming from Kubera’s participation in the February 2017 drinking gauntlet.
Joshua Kurczewski, Erie, PA.: One count of hazing, stemming from Kurczewski’s participation in the February 2017 drinking gauntlet.
All six former students face trial on other counts of hazing and furnishing alcohol to minors from earlier hearings, and all but Kurczewski face trial on multiple counts of reckless endangerment.
In addition, all counts were dismissed against Braxton Becker, who was charged with erasing videotapes from the fraternity’s basement on the night after Piazza’s bid acceptance.
Young’s attorney, Frank Fina, noted Piazza had been heavily involved in rushing other Penn State fraternities and attended events where he could have received the first, visible abdominal injury noticed by several Beta brothers after his fall down the basement steps.
Even before the Beta bid acceptance party, Fina noted, Piazza had done multiple Internet searches on abdominal pain.
He and other attorneys also highlighted the drinking culture at Penn State, and contended that with no clearly visible signs of the severity of Piazza’s internal injuries, this night at Beta looked and felt like dozens of other parties they had attended in their student social lives.
Centre County Judge Pamela Ruest had permitted the state Attorney General’s office to refile the involuntary manslaughter and other charges against 10 of the former Beta brothers after two dismissals by a different magisterial district judge.
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