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Tim Bream's Role Questioned During Beta Theta Pi Preliminary Hearing

by on August 10, 2017 5:05 PM

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Detective in Piazza Case Says Video Footage from Fraternity Basement Was Erased

Defense Questions Focus on Individual Roles, Alcohol and Piazza's Condition 

As cross-examination continued Thursday afternoon at the preliminary hearing for former fraternity members charged in connection with the death of Timothy Piazza, two defense attorneys focused some of their questioning on the role of Penn State football head athletic trainer Tim Bream.

In separate employment from his university job, Bream, an alumnus of the Penn State Beta chapter, was the live-in adviser at Beta Theta Pi fraternity house. In questioning of State College Police Det. David Scicchitano, the attorneys suggested Bream was aware of activities involving alcohol in the house, including on the night of Feb. 2.

That was when the fraternity hosted an alcohol-fueled bid acceptance night for pledges followed by a social, and when an intoxicated Piazza fell head-first down a flight of basement stairs. Piazza, 19, fell several more times on the first floor throughout the night, and investigators believe he fell down the basement steps again the following morning. He died on Feb. 4, have suffered non-recoverable brain injuries and a life-threatening spleen injury.

The bid acceptance involved "the gauntlet," a series of drinking stations in which Piazza and 13 other pledges rapidly consumed vodka, beer and wine. Evan Kelly, the attorney for defendant Craig Heimer, of Port Matilda, suggested Bream not only knew about the gauntlet, but had given fraternity leaders the O.K. for it.

"Are you aware Tim Bream personally approved the gauntlet?" Kelly asked Scicchitano.

Scicchitano didn't answer, after District Judge Allen Sinclair sustained one of District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller's numerous objections to questions about Bream.

Parks Miller said on multiple occasions that if there were evidence Bream had committed a crime, he would have been charged. She added that Bream's situation didn't negate crimes allegedly committed by the defendants.

Kelly also said that Bream met with the fraternity's executive officers on a regular basis and discussed their plans for social events.

Heimer, who is alleged to have purchased though not served alcohol for the bid acceptance night, is charged with multiple counts of recklessly endangering another person, hazing, furnishing alcohol to minors and unlawful acts relative to liquor. Kelly said that Bream's presence negated intent because he believed Bream was there as a chaperone to take responsibility for the event.

"There's no evidence of Tim Bream ever chaperoning parties," Parks Miller objected.

Bream reportedly attended an initiation event, but retired to his room before the events involving alcohol.

Earlier in the afternoon, attorney Leonard Ambrose, who represents Joseph Sala, also questioned Bream's responsibility. He pointed out that when the post-initiation social was going on, there were more than 100 people in the house and music was playing while Bream told police he was sleeping.

Scicchitano said that Bream knew it was bid acceptance night but that he was unaware of what else was going on after the alcohol-free initiation ritual.

"And you didn't believe him, did you?" Ambrose asked.

Scicchitano did not answer as an objection by Parks Miller was sustained.

Ambrose returned to Bream again when asking about three fraternity rush parties in January that involved alcohol. He said Bream was the highest ranking person in the house and had responsibility for it, noting that it was Bream who gave consent to search the house after Piazza's death.

"What does that have to do with whether his client committed crimes on this night?" Parks Miller asked in an objection. "If they have evidence he played a bigger role, we're all ears... This is not about Mr. Bream."

Bream's involvement came up earlier in the hearing in July, when Frank Fina, the attorney for fraternity president Brendan Young, pointed to a text message exchange between fraternity vice president Ed Gilmartin -- one of the members who waived his hearing on a tampering with evidence charge -- and brother Lars Kenyon in which Gilmartin suggests deleting messages "so people don’t get screenshots or anything that gets leaked to media."

"Tim's idea as a precaution," he concluded.

"Tim" is not identified by last name in the exchange, but Scicchitano testified that Kenyon said he took it to mean Tim Bream.

Like Young, Sala is among seven defendants who face charges of aggravated assault, involuntary manslaughter, simple assault and multiple counts of recklessly endangering another person, hazing, furnishing alcohol to minors and unlawful acts relative to liquor. 

Beyond the questioning about Bream, Ambrose's questioning sought to show, as previous attorneys have during cross-examination, that Sala had little interaction with Piazza and had a limited role in the gauntlet.

Scicchitano testified that at the beginning of the drinking, another brother, Parker Jax Yochim, handed a bottle of vodka to Sala, who in turn gave the bottle to pledgemaster Daniel Casey. Casey then gave the bottle to pledges who were lined up and told to finish the bottle before it got to the end of the line. Sala also was responsible for opening the door to the vodka chugging station, though not giving pledges the vodka.

He also said that Sala left the house at 12:30 a.m. and was unseen on surveillance video after that. There was no evidence that Sala observed Piazza after he fell down the stairs, Scicchitano testified.

Heimer and Michael Angelo Schiavone, meanwhile, are both charged with multiple counts of recklessly endangering another person, hazing, furnishing alcohol to minors and unlawful acts relative to liquor for their roles in purchasing alcohol for the event.

Under questioning by Kelly, Scicchitano testified that Heimer wasn't involved with the gauntlet and that there was no evidence of him directly giving alcohol to anyone. Kelly suggested that though he was a brother, Heimer never attended a bid night previously and it was possible he didn't know what it involved. He also said Heimer didn't know the pledges and asked if it was possible he didn't know the alcohol would be for anyone under 21.

Scicchitano, however, said based on his interview with Heimer he knew at the time he purchased the alcohol that it would be given to at least one underage person, though he couldn't recall the specifics of Heimer's statement.

The prosecution has introduced receipts showing Heimer purchased the alcohol, and text messages showing Schiavone organized the effort to purchase it. Schiavone was the house's risk manager and was reportedly responsible for collecting money to be used for an alcohol fund.

Schiavone's attorney, Marc Neff, pointed out that many members contributed to the fund, and there was no evidence of Schiavone running any stations for the gauntlet or giving anyone drinks.

"He didn’t physically hand any alcohol, but he was a major part of planning and furnishing alcohol to these underage kids," Scicchitano said. "So he was a major part of it."

Neff also tried to show that Schiavone had very little interaction with Piazza. At about 11:35 p.m., Schiavone entered the great hall where Piazza was on a couch after being carried up from his fall. Schiavone walked in Piazza's direction then left. Scicchitano said that Schiavone could be seen periodically going up and and down the stairs between the first and second floors but that it was his understanding Schiavone spent most of the night in his room.

Contesting the notion that pledges and brothers felt compelled to consume alcohol, Neff asked Scicchitano what he learned about Schiavone's habits. The detective responded that several people indicated Schiavone does not drink, which Neff said illustrates the fraternity would welcome members who did not want to consume alcohol. Scicchitano said that he still heard from other pledges and members that they felt they had to drink to be a part of the fraternity.

Attorneys for two others -- Kenyon and Yochim -- facing the same charges as Heimer and Schiavone also cross-examined Scicchitano on Thursday afternoon. In both cases, the defense noted that they were freshmen and newly initiated brothers who had little power in the fraternity.

Both served on the social committee and were "middle men" who relayed directions from Casey about how much and what kinds of alcohol to purchase to Schiavone.

On questioning from attorney Julian Allatt, Scicchitano said Kenyon "probably" could not have done anything to stop the gauntlet. Kenyon didn't set up or run any of the gauntlet stations and there was no evidence he directly gave alcohol to anyone that night.

Before Piazza fell down the stairs, Kenyon was seen on video helping Piazza to the couch and later said he was trying to get him a glass of water. Allatt suggested that contrary to the charge of reckless endangerment, that illustrated Kenyon was trying to care for Piazza.

Kenyon left the house at 12:30 a.m. and did not return through the following morning.

Yochim handed Sala the bottle of vodka that was then given to Casey for the basement lineup where pledges were told to finish the bottle. But beyond that, Yochim was not seen giving alcohol to anyone during the night, Scicchitano testified during questioning from attorney Ron McGlaughlin.

After Piazza fell, Yochim came into the great hall for a short period during which he bent over to check on him, concerned Piazza had too much to drink, Scicchitano said. Yochim left the house at 12:22 a.m. and also did not return through the following morning.

A total of 18 former members and the Alpha Upsilon chapter are charged with a variety of crimes related to Piazza's death. Two charged with tampering with evidence have already waived their rights to a preliminary.

The preliminary hearing, which began in June and continued over two days in July, will enter its fifth day on Friday morning. Five defense attorneys still have the opportunity to cross-examine Scicchitano.

After the hearing concludes, Sinclair will decide which charges will be bound over for trial.



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at geoff.rushton@statecollege.com or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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Detective in Piazza Case Says Video Footage from Fraternity Basement Was Erased
August 10, 2017 2:25 PM
by Geoff Rushton
Detective in Piazza Case Says Video Footage from Fraternity Basement Was Erased
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