Penn State frat members appear in court in pledge’s death
BELLEFONTE, Pa. — Eight more members of a Penn State University fraternity made their first court appearance Tuesday and were released on bail to await trial on charges stemming from the death of a pledge after an alcohol-fueled hazing ritual.
A Pennsylvania judge arraigned the defendants and set bail at $50,000, but they did not have to post any money.
The members of Beta Theta Pi face a range of charges. Ten other fraternity members who face more serious charges were arraigned Friday.
Five of the defendants in court Tuesday are accused of evidence tampering. Two are accused of hazing, alcohol law violations and reckless endangerment.
The lawyer for Joseph Ems Jr., 20, who faces only a reckless endangerment charge, called it a tragic and sad case and expressed condolences the family of victim Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old engineering student from Lebanon, New Jersey.
“It’s important to remember as tragic as this case is, my client’s a wonderful young man that’s never been in trouble,” said Ems’ attorney, William Brennan. “I think as the facts shake out, my client hopefully will be in a position to be extricated from this troubling case.”
Piazza died less than two days after falling and hitting his head several times after a pledge acceptance ceremony at the fraternity house in February.
A grand jury said security camera footage captured events inside the house that night, including pledges being ordered to guzzle alcohol quickly after the ceremony. Piazza appeared to become inebriated and fell face-first down a flight of basement steps before midnight.
The footage shows that Piazza fell repeatedly as the evening progressed, the jury wrote. Fraternity brothers made half-hearted and even counterproductive efforts to help him, and when one member strongly advocated for summoning help, he was shoved into a wall and told to leave, the report said.
Piazza apparently fell down the steps again early the next morning but was not discovered until about 10 a.m. Someone called 911 some 40 minutes later. Piazza later died as a result of severe head injuries and suffered other injuries that included internal bleeding from a shattered spleen.
The university on March 30 issued a permanent ban on Beta Theta Pi, which was once regarded as a model fraternity. The school found what it called a “persistent pattern” of excessive drinking, drug use and hazing. The fraternity also has been charged in Piazza’s death.