More Penn State frat members head to trial over pledge death

Mark Scolforo
Associated Press

HARRISBURG – Eleven more members of a Penn State fraternity are headed to trial over the death of a pledge after a judge ruled Monday prosecutors put on enough evidence to support hazing and alcohol-related criminal charges.

FILE – In this May 5, 2017, file photo, Jim and Evelyn Piazza, center, stand by as Centre County, Pa., prosecutors discuss an investigation into the death of their son Timothy Piazza, seen in photo at right, during a news conference in Bellefonte, Pa. Centre County, Pa., Magisterial District Judge Steven Lachman said Monday, May 7, 2018, there's enough evidence for 11 more Penn State fraternity members to stand trial in county court on hazing and alcohol-related charges over the Feb. 4, 2017, death of 19-year-old fraternity pledge Timothy Piazza, of Lebanon, N.J., after a night of heavy drinking. The judge pared down other counts, while dismissing all reckless endangerment counts and allegations a fraternity member erased basement security video to thwart investigators. (Abby Drey /Centre Daily Times via AP, File)

Judge Steven Lachman also threw out allegations that a member of now-shuttered Beta Theta Pi had erased basement security video to thwart investigators, and dismissed all reckless endangerment counts the defendants had faced.

All 11 face at least one count of hazing and at least one alcohol-related charge for the events that occurred the night in February 2017, when Tim Piazza suffered a series of falls and was badly injured inside the fraternity house.

Piazza, 19, of Lebanon, New Jersey, died of severe head and abdominal injuries after a night of drinking that followed a pledge bid acceptance ceremony. He fell down a set of basement steps, and the amount of alcohol in his system has been estimated at three or four times the state’s legal limit for driving.

After a separate preliminary hearing, another judge previously sent charges against 14 other members of the fraternity to county court for trial.

Lachman dismissed all three charges that Braxton Becker, 21, of Niskayuna, New York, had faced over the allegedly deleted security video – evidence tampering, obstruction and hindering apprehension or prosecution. A message left for his lawyer was not immediately returned.

The judge upheld a total of 35 counts of hazing and 37 alcohol-related offenses against the 11 defendants. In addition to Becker’s charges, he also threw out five counts of reckless endangerment, 34 alcohol-related counts, two counts of hazing and one count of criminal conspiracy against various members of the group.

FILE – This Nov. 9, 2017, file photo shows Pennsylvania State University's shuttered Beta Theta Pi fraternity house in State College, Pa. Centre County, Pa., Magisterial District Judge Steven Lachman said Monday, May 7, 2018, there's enough evidence for 11 more Penn State fraternity members to stand trial in county court on hazing and alcohol-related charges over the Feb. 4, 2017, death of 19-year-old fraternity pledge Timothy Piazza, of Lebanon, N.J., after a night of heavy drinking. The judge pared down other counts, while dismissing all reckless endangerment counts and allegations a fraternity member erased basement security video to thwart investigators. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

A spokesman for the attorney general’s office said he would soon issue a comment on the decision.

Prosecutors have said it is unclear whether the two sets of charges will be consolidated for trial.