Members of a shuttered Penn State fraternity accused of crimes related to the death of a pledge earlier this year are due in a Pennsylvania courtroom for what will be the fourth day of a hearing to determine if there's enough evidence to send the case to county court for trial.
The preliminary hearing on Thursday for 16 young men who belonged to Beta Theta Pi involves charges that for some include involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault for the February death of engineering student Tim Piazza. Others face less serious charges that include evidence tampering, hazing, reckless endangerment and alcohol offenses.
Piazza, 19, a sophomore from Lebanon, New Jersey, fell several times during a night of drinking that followed his participation in a pledge acceptance ceremony. Security camera footage inside the house recorded the response of fraternity leaders and other members as they addressed his injured, intoxicated state with a series of ineffectual and even counterproductive efforts.
Excerpts from the footage, narrated by the lead detective earlier during a previous session of the lengthy hearing, showed fraternity members holding down Piazza, strapping him to a loaded backpack to keep him from turning over and choking, pouring liquids on him and trying to get him to stand so they could dress him, even though he appeared to be unconscious.
Piazza was left on a first-floor couch overnight, in palpable agony. He made several clumsy attempts to get up, but fell repeatedly and in some cases landed on his head.
He was found by fraternity members in the basement the next morning and was carried back upstairs. They waited an additional 40 minutes before summoning help.
After Piazza died Feb. 4 at a hospital, authorities said he had consumed a dangerous amount of alcohol and had suffered severe head and abdominal injuries.
The hearing will resume on Thursday with defense attorney tag-team cross-examination of the lead detective. A fifth day has been scheduled for Friday.
Defense attorneys have challenged State College Police Detective Dave Scicchitano about his investigation, zeroing in on what the video shows about their particular clients and asking him about how much hazing pressure Piazza would have felt.
The fraternity itself also faces criminal charges, including involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault. Two other defendants have waived the hearing.
After Piazza's death, Penn State permanently banned Beta Theta Pi.