Involuntary manslaughter charges dropped in Penn State fraternity hazing case
Courtesy Piazza Family(STATE COLLEGE, Pa.) — Involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault charges have been dropped against eight former Penn State University fraternity members in connection with the death of a pledge at the fraternity house earlier this year, a Pennsylvania judge announced on Friday.
But Centre County District Judge Allen Sinclair said Friday the cases against those students and four others will head to trial for less serious alleged offenses: reckless endangerment, alcohol-related charges and hazing.
Sinclair also dismissed charges completely against four former fraternity members who were facing single counts of either tampering with evidence or recklessly endangering another person.
The judge’s rulings ended a preliminary hearing that spanned several months.
Two additional students facing charges waived the preliminary hearing, so they are automatically continuing on to court.
Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said outside court on Friday her office is planning to refile the charges.
The charges, initially against 18 students, stemmed from the death of Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old sophomore and pledge at Beta Theta Pi, who died Feb. 4 after he fell down the stairs during a night of drinking for a pledge ceremony at the house on the night of Feb. 2.
In text messages, fraternity members refer to the pledge ceremony drinking as an “obstacle course.” Fraternity members did not call 911 until the morning of Feb. 3, about 12 hours after Piazza’s fall, according to a report on the grand jury’s investigation. Piazza’s death “was the direct result of traumatic brain injuries,” according to the forensic pathologist.
Prosecutors allege that the former fraternity brothers at Beta Theta Pi waited to get Piazza help in an attempt to cover up their drinking and “coordinate a story.”
But one of the defense attorneys in the case told ABC News earlier, “Of course, it’s a tragedy. But that doesn’t mean there’s any intent involved in any of this.”
No defendants have entered charges.
Piazza’s father, Jim Piazza, said before Friday’s ruling, “Tim is … not just our son anymore. He represents every son and daughter of every family that has someone that they want to send to college that may want to participate in Greek life.”
In the wake of Piazza’s death, Penn State announced new reforms including limiting alcohol to beer and wine and banning kegs; emphasis on a zero-tolerance policy for hazing; more mandatory educational programming for Greek Life members; and “a significant reduction in the number of permitted socials with alcohol per semester.”
The Beta Theta Pi fraternity has since been barred from Penn State.
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