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Involuntary Manslaughter Charges Dismissed in Beta Theta Pi Case

by on March 28, 2018 11:54 AM

After a three-day preliminary hearing, a judge has dismissed refiled charges of involuntary manslaughter and recklessly endangering another person against former Beta Theta Pi members charged in connection with the February 2017 death of Penn State sophomore Timothy Piazza.

District Judge Allen Sinclair, who initially dismissed the charges after a first preliminary hearing last summer, tossed counts of involuntary manslaughter against five of the defendants and recklessly endangering another person against all 11 defendants who were part of the hearing that began on Friday and concluded on Tuesday.

Piazza, a 19-year-old from Lebanon, N.J., died on Feb. 4, 2017 as a result of brain injuries and internal bleeding after falling several times during an alcohol-fueled bid acceptance night for pledges at the now-banned Beta Theta Pi.

A few charges were bound over. Fraternity president Brendan Young and pledgemaster Daniel Casey each had one count of conspiracy to commit hazing, a newly added charge by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office, held for trial. Gary DiBileo, Luke Visser and Michael Bonatucci also had new charges of furnishing alcohol to minors and related liquor code violations bound over. 

For six defendants, all refiled and new charges considered during the hearing were dismissed. Each of the 11 defendants still also face charges that were bound over after the first preliminary hearing, including counts of recklessly endangering another person, hazing and furnishing.

“We will move forward with our case and the charges that were held for trial today," Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement. "I am disappointed by the decision of the Magisterial District Judge and we are assessing our legal options. My office is committed to seeking justice for Timothy Piazza and his family and holding responsible individuals accountable for their actions, consistent with the law and the evidence in this case.”

Shapiro's office took over the case in January at the request of new Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna. Shapiro said his office has conducted a comprehensive review of the case and that review is ongoing. Prior to the new preliminary hearing, prosecutors dropped refiled charges of felony aggravated assault against eight defendants and involuntary manslaughter against three.

Including others who had misdemeanor counts held over last year and others who were charged in November after the recovery of deleted basement video footage, a total of 26 defendants are charged in the case.

A preliminary hearing for the charges filed in November against 12 former fraternity brothers is scheduled to begin on May 2. Five of those defendants -- Joshua Kurczewski, Ryan Burke, Jonathan Kanzler, Bohan Song and Aiden O'Brien -- were charged by former District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller with aggravated assault and involuntary manslaughter. The Attorney General's office has not yet indicated if it will continue to pursue those counts.

Before leaving office, Parks Miller had sought to have Sinclair excluded from presiding over the new preliminary hearing on refiled charges, arguing he committed an error of law. Centre County President Judge Pamela Ruest, however, ruled that Sinclair made a well-reasoned decision.

Theodore Simon, the attorney for Visser, said that after two preliminary hearings and Ruest's ruling, it is clear that the most serious charges against his client were "unfounded, unwarranted and unjustified."

"This was a sad and tragic loss of life but not every unfortunate tragedy should result in serious criminal charges," Simon said. "We are thankful to the court, after conducting a thorough and painstaking examination of all the evidence that the court has agreed with the defense.”

For the 11 defendants who were the subjects of the new preliminary hearing, here's how Sinclair ruled and the other charges they are still facing.

Brendan Young

 Dismissed: One count of involuntary manslaughter, 29 counts of recklessly endangering another person (REAP), one count of conspiracy to commit hazing, 29 counts of hazing

Bound over: One count of conspiracy to commit hazing

Bound over on Sept. 1, 2017: Tampering with evidence, 14 counts of recklessly endangering another person, 12 counts of furnishing alcohol to minors, 12 counts of unlawful acts relative to liquor, 12 counts of hazing

Daniel Casey

Dismissed: One count of involuntary manslaughter, 29 counts of REAP, one count of conspiracy to commit hazing, 29 counts of hazing

Bound over: One count of conspiracy to commit hazing

Bound over on Sept. 1, 2017: Tampering with evidence, 14 counts of REAP, 12 counts of furnishing alcohol to minors, 12 counts of unlawful acts relative to liquor, 12 counts of hazing, consumption of alcohol by a minor

Jonah Neuman

Dismissed: One count of involuntary manslaughter, 11 counts of REAP, one count of conspiracy to commit hazing

Bound over: None

Bound over on Sept. 1, 2017: Three counts of REAP, 14 counts of hazing, three counts of furnishing alcohol to minors, three counts of unlawful acts relative to liquor, disorderly conduct, consumption of alcohol by a minor

Gary DiBileo

Dismissed: One count of involuntary manslaughter, one count of conspiracy to commit hazing

Bound over: Five counts of furnishing alcohol to minors, five counts of unlawful acts relative to liquor

Bound over on Sept. 1, 2017: 14 counts of REAP, 14 counts of hazing, 12 counts of furnishing alcohol to minors, 12 counts of unlawful acts relative to liquor, consumption of alcohol by a minor

Luke Visser

Dismissed: One count of involuntary manslaughter, one count of conspiracy to commit hazing

Bound over: Seven counts of furnishing alcohol to minors, seven counts of unlawful acts relative to liquor

Bound over on Sept. 1, 2017: 14 counts of REAP, 14 counts of hazing, 12 counts of furnishing alcohol to minors, 12 counts of unlawful acts relative to liquor

Michael Angelo Schiavone

Dismissed: 13 counts of REAP, one count of conspiracy to commit hazing, 12 counts of furnishing alcohol to minors, seven counts of unlawful acts relative to liquor

Bound over: None

Bound over on Sept. 1, 2017: One count of REAP, 14 counts of hazing

Parker Jax Yochim

Dismissed: 14 counts of REAP, one count of conspiracy to commit hazing, one count of furnishing alcohol to minors

Bound over: None

Bound over on Sept. 1, 201714 counts of hazing, 12 counts of furnishing alcohol to minors, 12 counts of unlawful acts relative to liquor

Lars Kenyon

Dismissed: 14 counts of REAP, one count of conspiracy to commit hazing, one count of furnishing alcohol to minors, one count of unlawful acts relative to liquor

Bound over: None

Bound over on Sept. 1, 201714 counts of hazing

Michael Bonatucci

Dismissed: Nine counts of REAP, one count of conspiracy to commit hazing

Bound over: Two counts of furnishing alcohol to minors, two counts of unlawful acts relative to liquor

Bound over on Sept. 1, 2017: Five counts of REAP, 14 counts of hazing, four counts of furnishing alcohol to minors, four counts of unlawful acts relative to liquor, consumption of alcohol by a minor

Joseph Sala

Dismissed: 14 counts of REAP, one count of conspiracy to commit hazing, 12 counts of furnishing alcohol to minors, 12 counts of unlawful acts relative to liquor

Bound over: None

Bound over on Sept. 1, 2017: 14 counts of hazing, two counts of furnishing alcohol to minors, two counts of unlawful acts relative to liquor

Nicholas Kubera

Dismissed: Eight counts of REAP, one count of conspiracy to commit hazing, three counts of furnishing alcohol to minors, three counts of unlawful acts relative to liquor

Bound over: None

Bound over on Sept. 1, 2017: Six counts of REAP, 14 counts of hazing, five counts of furnishing alcohol to minors, five counts of unlawful acts relative to liquor, consumption of alcohol by a minor



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