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Former Beta Theta Pi Member Scheduled to Enter Guilty Plea in Piazza Case

by on June 11, 2018 7:59 PM

A former Beta Theta Pi fraternity brother is expected to plead guilty to charges stemming from the February 2017 death of pledge and Penn State sophomore Timothy Piazza.

Ryan Burke, 21, is scheduled to enter a guilty plea on Wednesday afternoon in Bellefonte. He would be the first defendant in the case to plead guilty to charges for playing a role in the alcohol-fueled fraternity initiation event that led to Piazza's death.

He is facing four counts of hazing, four counts of unlawful acts relative to liquor and one summary offense of underage drinking. The terms of his plea agreement have not been made available. Burke's attorney, Philip Masorti, did not return a message seeking comment and a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office declined comment.

According to court records, a pre-sentence investigation was ordered earlier this month by Centre County Judge Brian Marshall.

Burke was among the second set of 12 defendants charged in November after the recovery of surveillance video footage from the night of Feb. 2, 2017 in the Beta Theta Pi basement. The video showed fraternity brothers giving Piazza 18 alcoholic drinks in the period of 82 minutes before he fell head-first down the basement steps. Piazza died on Feb. 4 as a result of brain injuries and internal bleeding.

Burke gave a bottle of vodka to Piazza and three other pledges to drink. Masorti argued at a preliminary hearing in May that in at least one instance it was not clear that Burke was actually the person identified by police in video footage. Attorneys for each of the men accused of giving alcohol to Piazza have argued that their interactions with Piazza were brief and that there was no way they could have known his level of intoxication.

When charges were initially filed in November, Burke was charged with a felony count of aggravated assault as well as misdemeanor counts of involuntary manslaughter and simple assault. Those charges were withdrawn after the Attorney General's office took over the case in January.

After a preliminary hearing in May, District Judge Steven Lachman dismissed a charge of recklessly endangering another person and four counts of furnishing alcohol to minors against Burke.

Two others who had some charges dismissed after that hearing saw those charges refiled on Monday.

A total of 24 other former Beta Theta Pi brothers face trial on a variety of charges in the case. A trial for 14 of the defendants is scheduled for August.

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