The three-day preliminary hearing for 12 defendants charged in relation to the hazing death of Penn State student Tim Piazza completed on Friday. District judge Steve Lachman said he will announce on Monday whether the charges will go to trial.
These 12 defendants are the second group of former Beta Theta Pi brothers charged in the criminal investigation into the death of Piazza.
Five of the brothers, Joshua Kurczewski, Ryan Burke, Jonathan Kanzler, Bohan Song and Aiden O’Brien, are each charged with reckless endangerment. Eleven of the defendants face multiple counts of hazing, furnishing, underage drinking and unlawful acts relative to liquor.
During closing statements, several key arguments dominated the defense attorneys’ speeches. Many of them said because bid acceptance night was one event, any alleged hazing offenses should be considered one series of action, therefore shouldn’t result in charges more than one count.
Attorney John Sughrue, who represents Bohan Song, argued that the element of “conscious ignorance of a great and unjustifiable risk” in constituting reckless endangerment could not be met.
“Handing a friend a drink at a beer party is not a reckless act,” Sughrue said. He argued that Piazza accepted alcohol from the brothers and drank voluntarily.
Defense attorneys echoed that argument and further said there was no indication that their clients had knowledge of the level of intoxication of Piazza and other pledges.
State College police detective David Scicchitano testified earlier during the hearing that Piazza first appeared to be visibly intoxicated on camera at around 9:54 p.m. on the night of bid acceptance. Just minutes earlier, Ryan Burke was seen on tape giving Piazza a bottle of vodka.
Burke’s lawyer said he wouldn’t have observed signs of intoxication from Piazza at that time.
Defense attorneys also argued that none of the defendants knew the age of the pledges and couldn’t be proven to have knowingly given alcohol to minors. Twelve of the 14 pledges for Beta Theta Pi’s spring 2017 class were underage, including the 19-year-old Piazza.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Andrew Notaristefano delivered the closing statement on behalf of the prosecution. He said the fraternity brothers took advantage of their dominance over pledges, who “want to be accepted,” and planned the event with the purpose of getting pledges dangerously drunk.
“Nothing occurs in a vacuum,” Notaristefano said. He argued that all the brothers knew what to expect on bid acceptance while the pledges were simply told what to do. He said there was psychological force in the “systematic hazing.”
“They knew giving alcohol to someone who’s already intoxicated can have serious consequences,” he referred to a former brother, Kordel Davis, who fell during the fall 2016 bid acceptance event after drinking excessively. Davis advocated getting medical help for Piazza.
The 12 defendants were charged last November based on evidence from recovered surveillance footage of the fraternity house basement after house manager Braxton Becker allegedly deleted it.
State College police detective Craig Ripka took the stand on Friday and gave more details on how the State College police came to realize the video footage was manually deleted, in addition to Scicchitano’s testimony on Thursday.
Becker faces charges for tampering, obstruction and hindering apprehension.
Previously, district judge Allen Sinclair dismissed the most severe charges for 14 defendants in the case twice. But the state Attorney General’s office is appealing some of that ruling.