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DA Plans to Refile Dismissed Charges in Fraternity Case

by on September 01, 2017 3:25 PM

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• Defense Attorneys Say Beta Theta Pi Case Was Overcharged

 What Was Dismissed and What Was Bound Over in Beta Theta Pi Decision

District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said Friday that she will seek to refile involuntary manslaughter and potentially other counts that were dismissed in the case of former Beta Theta Pi fraternity brothers charged in connection with the death of Timothy Piazza.

After a seven-day preliminary hearing spread out over the course of the summer, District Judge Allen Sinclair bound over some of the initial charges against 18 fraternity members and the Alpha Upsilon chapter but dismissed the most serious charges of felony aggravated assault and misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter and simple assault.

Fourteen members still face a variety of charges that include recklessly endangering another person, hazing, furnishing alcohol to minors and tampering with evidence.

Eight defendants had been charged with assault and manslaughter and the chapter was charged with manslaughter as well. Parks Miller said she is certain she will seek to have the manslaughter charges reinstated and will consider which other charges she will refile.

"We get a second shot and we’re absolutely going to take it," Parks Miller said.

She will argue that Sinclair committed an error of law in dismissing charges and ask that he be moved aside for another district judge to determine if the charges should move forward.

Piazza died in February from traumatic brain injuries and internal bleeding after falling multiple times during an alcohol-fueled bid acceptance night at the fraternity. Defense attorneys argued their clients' limited roles in the night and that their actions didn't meet the standards of recklessness and malice required for the most serious charges.

"This was an exceedingly reckless situation," Parks Miller said. "We described it as planning an event for maximum destruction to get people fatally drunk on purpose. As a result a young man died unnecessarily. We just think the charges needed to match that. Involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault match that behavior and they need to be held accountable for what they did."

She said that Sinclair threw out the involuntary manslaughter charge against eight defendants and left reckless endangerment charges, but that the standard for recklessness in both charges was the same.

There's no timetable for when the prosecution will seek a new hearing.

The surveillance video and equipment from inside the fraternity house that has been used extensively in the case is with the FBI now for forensic analysis after investigators said earlier this summer they had evidence video from the fraternity basement had been deleted. If video is recovered it could yield new evidence or charges but Parks Miller declined to discuss specifics citing an ongoing investigation.

She said her office will look to have a new hearing as soon as possible, but will wait to combine the dismissed charges and any new charges that may arise.

Defense attorney Andrew Shubin, who represents Nick Kubera, said he urges "temperance" by Parks Miller in considering the refiling of charges.

He noted that Parks Miller lost her bid for re-election in May's primary and come January, Bernie Cantorna will be the new DA.

"If she refiles it, it will be somebody else that has to take care of it," he said.

Kubera is one of eight who had charges of assault and involuntary manslaughter dismissed. Eight counts of reckless endangerment and 14 counts of furnishing alcohol to minors also were dismissed. He still faces six counts of reckless endangerment, 10 counts of furnishing and 14 counts of hazing

Shubin also said that if prosecutors are going to refile, they should look at charges for Tim Bream, Penn State football's head athletic trainer and associate athletic director who served in a separate role as the live-in adviser at the fraternity.

Bream testified this week that he was asleep in his room while the drinking was going on and that he did not give his approval to the drinking-related activities. He said he knew fraternity officers had applied for an alcohol permit for the night from Penn State's Interfraternity Council but didn't know at the time if they had received it.

"He stayed in his bedroom sleeping while a party he knew was sanctioned with alcohol was taking place and he chose to do nothing," Shubin said. "One of the real stories if the commonwealth decides to refile here is if they’re going to look at the adult, the person who had a duty here, who was being paid to protect these kids."

Shubin also likened Bream to Penn State administrators accused of inaction in the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal.

"Tim Bream is a Penn State administrator who like other Penn State administrators... failed to take action to prevent something tragic from happening," Shubin said.

In addition to the assault and involuntary manslaughter charges, Sinclair delivered a mixed ruling on a number of other charges involving defendants, dismissing some reckless endangerment, furnishing, hazing and tampering with evidence charges among the 18 defendants.

Three men who faced single counts of tampering -- Braxton Becker, Lucas Rockwell and Ryan McCann -- as well as Joseph Ems, who faced one charge of reckless endangerment, had their cases dismissed.

Still facing a variety of misdemeanor charges are Brendan Young, Daniel Casey, Gary DiBileo, Jonah Neuman, Michael Bonatucci, Luke Visser, Joe Sala and Kubera, all of whom had the assault and involuntary manslaughter charges dismissed. Michael Angelo Schiabone, Craig Heimer, Parker Jax Yochim and Lars Kenyon had some misdemeanor charges dismissed but others bound over.

An involuntary manslaughter charge against the Alpha Upsilon Chapter of Beta Theta Pi was dismissed but hazing and furnishing charges were bound over.

Two defendants charged with tampering -- Ed Gilmartin and Ryan Foster -- waived their preliminary hearings in June.



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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