Judge schedules 6-day hearing in Penn State frat death case
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Penn State fraternity brothers facing refiled charges in a pledge’s hazing death are scheduled for a second hearing on whether prosecutors have enough evidence to send the most serious allegations against them to trial.
A judge on Friday scheduled a six-day preliminary hearing for next month for 11 members of the now-shuttered Beta Theta Pi fraternity.
Prosecution of the case was recently turned over to the state attorney general’s office, which could seek further delays. A spokesman said Monday the agency was still reviewing the matter.
Then-District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller last fall refiled charges that had been dismissed in September after a marathon preliminary hearing. They included the most serious counts that had been charged, involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault. She also sought to replace District Judge Allen Sinclair, who handled the preliminary hearing.
Parks Miller was voted out and left office at the end of December, after which her successor turned over the case to state prosecutors.
Also in limbo are charges that in September were forwarded by Sinclair to county court for trial as well as new charges that Parks Miller lodged based on an FBI analysis of deleted security camera footage from the basement of the fraternity.
The attorney general’s office could forge ahead with the refiled charges, alter them, drop them or try to negotiate pleas.
“We’re not ready as yet to give any kind of public update on this case,” said Joe Grace, a spokesman for the attorney general. “The review is still ongoing.”
Centre County’s president judge last month ruled that Sinclair will continue to preside during the second preliminary hearing, now set for March 22.
Attorney Michael Engle, who represents Gary DiBileo, one of the defendants, said Monday that none of the defense lawyers he has been in touch with have heard from the attorney general’s office about prosecutors’ plans.
He argued that Sinclair got it right in dismissing charges more than five months ago.
“It was completely inappropriate to refile those charges against him because we were confident that Judge Sinclair did not make an error of law,” Engle said. “That was confirmed by the president judge’s determination in this case. There simply is no new evidence that changes the calculus here in regards to Gary that would support those more serious charges.”
All charges relate to the death a year ago of 19-year-old pledge Tim Piazza, a sophomore engineering student from Lebanon, New Jersey. Piazza suffered severe head and abdominal injuries during a night of drinking and hazing at the fraternity house.
The building’s security cameras captured Piazza enduring an excruciating night on the first floor of the Beta Theta Pi house, as his friends made ineffective and even counterproductive efforts to address his dire medical condition.
Piazza fell down a set of basement steps during a party that followed a pledge bid acceptance ceremony. Authorities say he had consumed a dangerous amount of alcohol.
He somehow ended up in the basement again by the next morning, unconscious. Fraternity members carried him back upstairs but waited 40 minutes to summon an ambulance. He died later at a hospital.