Penn State frat pledge death charges rest in hands of judge

A judge is to decide whether to keep alive charges against Penn State fraternity members linked to the death of a pledge whose agonizing night after a fall down stairs was captured by security cameras in February.

District Justice Allen Sinclair must decide Friday whether prosecutors have put on enough evidence to send the charges against the Beta Theta Pi fraternity and 16 former members to county court for trial.

His decision follows a hard-fought, unusually long, seven-day 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.

In all, 18 fraternity brothers face charges that for some include including involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault, while others are charged with less serious allegations. Two defendants waived the hearing.

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller has 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.

That pressure included running them through a speed-drinking “gauntlet” and directing them to collectively drain a large bottle of vodka.

The security video recorded Piazza, 19, a sophomore engineering student from Lebanon, New Jersey, appearing intoxicated and being led to a couch after 11 p.m. A few minutes later, he fell head-first down a set of basement stairs and had to be carried back up in an unconscious state.

For several hours members of the fraternity appeared to take half-hearted and even counterproductive measures to tend to their injured friend, pouring liquid on him and strapping on a loaded backpack to prevent him from rolling over and choking on vomit.

In the early morning hours Piazza was pictured stumbling from the couch to other areas on the vast house’s first floor, including falls into a door and onto a stone floor.

He somehow ended up back in the basement the next morning and was again carried back upstairs to a couch. It took another 40 minutes for fraternity members to call an ambulance.

Authorities said Piazza had ingested a dangerous amount of alcohol and suffered severe head and abdominal injuries. He soon died at a hospital.

Defense attorneys have sought to persuade Sinclair that their clients’ roles were minimal or their actions did not amount to criminal behavior….

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