A judge on Friday threw out involuntary manslaughter and felony aggravated assault counts against members of a Penn State fraternity in a pledge’s alcohol hazing-related death, ordering 12 of the defendants to stand trial on lesser counts.
District Justice Allen Sinclair dismissed charges altogether against four of the members of the now-shuttered Beta Theta Pi fraternity. Fourteen fraternity brothers are now headed to trial in the case. Two had previously agreed to waive a preliminary hearing.
Charges remaining range from alcohol violations and hazing to reckless endangerment. The judge bound over hazing and alcohol law charges against the fraternity itself, but dismissed its involuntary manslaughter count.
“Obviously now the teeth have really been taken out of the commonwealth’s case,” said defense attorney Michael Engle, lawyer for Gary DiBileo, 21.
The decision followed a hard-fought, unusually long preliminary hearing in which the defendants and a platoon of defense attorneys wedged into the courtroom fought against allegations that a night of hazing and heavy drinking caused the death of Tim Piazza on Feb. 4.
Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller had argued that members of the fraternity pressured Piazza and other pledges to drink heavily, plying them with wine, vodka and beer after a ceremony to mark their decision to pledge the organization.
She rejected any suggestion she may have overcharged in the case, which was the subject of a grand jury investigation that recommended charges.
“Was it a grand jury overreach?” Parks Miller said outside the courthouse. “I didn’t make that decision.”
She said she believes the judge ruled based on an assessment of the defendants’ individual roles, which she called “a huge legal error” in a case she pursued based on a theory of accomplice liability. Sinclair declined to comment about the case after he ruled.
“Sometimes judges get it wrong — that’s why we have an appeal,” she said.
Defense attorneys said they would challenge any effort to restore the dismissed charges, and will work to whittle down what remains.
“We’re going to challenge any of these charges that were bound over that we feel shouldn’t have been,” said attorney Andy Shubin, whose client Nick Kubera, 19, still faces six counts of reckless endangerment, down from 14, as well as hazing and alcohol law allegations.
Leonard Ambrose, lawyer for Joseph Sala, 19, said there was “no basis for most of the…