Hearings Begin For 12 New Defendants In The Penn State Hazing Case

May 2, 2018

Prosecutors from the office of the Pennsylvania Attorney General began on Wednesday to build the case against 12 defendants for charges in relation to the hazing death of Penn State student Tim Piazza. A new judge is presiding over the preliminary hearing and will decide whether the defendants will go to trial for charges including reckless endangerment, hazing and furnishing. 

The former fraternity brothers of the now-banned Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Penn State are accused of being involved in a night of hazing in February 2017 that eventually led to the death of pledge Tim Piazza. 

Five of the brothers, Joshua Kurczewski, Ryan Burke, Jonathan Kanzler, Bohan Song and Aiden O’Brien, are each charged with reckless endangerment. All of the five originally faced involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault and simple assault charges. But the day before the preliminary hearing, Attorney General Josh Shapiro dropped those more serious charges brought by former Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller.

Eleven of the defendants face multiple counts of hazing, furnishing and unlawful acts relative to liquor. Braxton Becker, the house manager of the fraternity, is charged with tampering, obstruction and hindering apprehension for allegedly deleting surveillance footage of the basement of the house.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Zarallo announced an additional charge of conspiracy to commit hazing against Joshua Kurczewski as well as additional counts for existing charges of hazing, furnishing and unlawful acts relative to liquor against Aiden O’Brien.

Security footage from bid acceptance night last February took center stage on Wednesday. Prosecution showed compilations of both still shots and video clips of the drinking obstacle course—or “gauntlet”—which was part of the bid acceptance night that Tim Piazza and 13 other pledges took part in. In the clips shown on Wednesday, many of the 12 defendants were seen planning the gauntlet, participating during the event and giving alcohol to pledges.

The prosecution says the video shows fraternity members gave Tim Piazza 18 drinks in 82 minutes. State College police detective David Scicchitano testified that none of the pledges obtained the drinks they had, but rather, the alcohol they consumed was all handed out by the brothers.  

On multiple occasions, defense attorneys questioned Scicchitano’s ability to identify each brother on the security tape and objected to “characterizations” he made of the brothers’ actions. They will cross-examine Scicchitano once prosecution finishes showing individual compilations for all of the defendants. 

District judge Steve Lachman will decide whether the brothers go to trial. Previously, Judge Allen Sinclair cleared the most serious charges for 14 others in this case, but Shapiro is also appealing some of that dismissal.

The preliminary hearing continues Thursday.