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Former Beta Theta Pi Brother Asks for Reduced Jail Time, House Arrest

by on April 24, 2019 4:17 PM

A former Beta Theta Pi brother who earlier this month was sentenced to jail time in the Penn State fraternity hazing case is now requesting that sentence be modified.

Luke Visser pleaded guilty to to six counts of hazing and one count of conspiracy to commit hazing in the case stemming from the 2017 death of 19-year-old pledge Timothy Piazza.

The 21-year-old from Encinitas, Calif., was sentenced on April 2 to two months in jail, a $2,500 fine and 100 hours of community service. In a motion filed on April 12, his attorneys, Ted Simon and Lance Marshall, offered several reasons why his jail sentence should be changed to house arrest and the length of the sentence should be reduced.

First, they asked the court to consider that on April 7, Visser suffered a severe shoulder injury while playing lacrosse for Loyola Marymount University. He requires surgery which had not yet been scheduled because of other health issues. Once he does have the surgery, Visser will have four to six months of recuperation and require ongoing specialized care, the attorneys wrote.

At the sentencing, the Centre County Judge Brian Marshall noted that if Visser lived in Pennsylvania instead of California, he would have been sentenced to 60 days house arrest as part of an Intermediate Punishment program, as some other defendants have received, according to the motion. The attorneys offered for Visser to serve home confinement in California with proper monitoring by a third party or to return to Pennsylvania and serve confinement at an approved residence, though the latter was less likely because of Visser's medical status.

Visser's attorneys also argued that Marshall improperly imposed an aggravated sentence by relying on information related to charges that had already been dismissed or dropped.

The hazing charges Visser pleaded to were for operating the beer pong station during the "gauntlet," a series of drinking station in which pledges were encouraged to rapidly consume alcohol during bid acceptance night on Feb. 2, 2017. None of those charges were specifically tied to Piazza, who consumed 18 drinks in 82 minutes before falling head first down the basement stairs. His condition worsened throughout the night. No one called for help until the following morning, and Piazza died of brain injuries and internal bleeding on Feb. 4.

At sentencing, however, the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office presented information and video of conduct by Visser outside of those charges. Visser previously had charges including aggravated assault and involuntary manslaughter dismissed. His attorneys also said some of the information presented by the Commonwealth at sentencing was inaccurate.

"Visser left 20 minutes after the fall and only thought Mr. Piazza had too much to drink and was not injured," his attorneys wrote, adding that Piazza was in the care of others when Visser left the house for the night.

His attorneys also said the court "failed to take into account the extraordinary remorse clearly demonstrated by Visser..." He was "crying and inconsolable" during when he spoke at the sentencing hearing and was the only defendant sentenced that day to verbally address the court, they wrote. They also said he has experienced psychological anguish and medical consequences and has spoken to high school and college students on a number of occasions about about the dangers of heavy drinking and hazing.

He also "saved the life of another person who was experiencing an alcohol overdose," after receiving a phone call about the woman's condition, driving to where she was and taking her to the hospital, according to the motion.

Visser's sentence, his attorneys argued, was unduly harsh compared to his co-defendants.

In sum, they argued that Visser's circumstances merited standard sentencing range guidelines of restorative sanctions, which typically consist of probation.

Visser also is one of six defendants that the attorney general's office requested this week be ordered to pay a total of $223,000 in restitution to the Piazza family for medical bills and funeral costs.

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