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Beta Theta Pi Pretrial Hearing Moves Slowly

William Brennan being interviewed by reporters
Emily Reddy

On what’s scheduled to be the last day of preliminary hearings for 18 Penn State fraternity members charged in relation to the death of pledge Timothy Piazza, by a lunch break only two lawyers had a chance to cross-examine Det. David Scicchitano.

Stephen Trialonas is the defense attorney for Daniel Casey, the pledge master for Beta Theta Pi.

Trialonas’ line of questioning covered past years of hazing—when the detective agreed no pledges had been seriously hurt—and that Piazza knew he would be drinking and drank voluntarily during a drinking “Gauntlet” of vodka, beer and wine and at the party afterward.

The detective said he didn’t know of instances where Piazza was physically forced to drink, but that there were elements that made participation less than voluntary.

“This was bid acceptance night,” Scicchitano said, “if they didn’t participate they didn’t think they were going to get in to the fraternity.”

Scicchitano said some fraternity members cried when they were being interviewed because they were torn about betraying their fraternity brothers.

There were witnesses to Piazza’s first fall down a flight of stairs into the basement around 11:22 p.m., but Trialonas questioned district attorney Stacy Parks Miller’s assumption that Piazza fell down the stairs a second time in the middle of the night. There was no witness to a second fall and the surveillance system that captured much of the night didn’t extend to the basement or to the top of the stairs.

“You cannot rule out that Mr. Piazza walked himself down the stairs instead of falling down the stairs?” Trialonas asked Scicchitano. Scicchitano agreed.

Fraternity member Jonah Neuman’s lawyer characterized him as minimally involved in the bid acceptance night events. Neuman prepared a few of the beers for the beer shotgunning station in the “Gauntlet.” He was not the one who handed the beer to Piazza.

Neuman originally told Scicchitano he didn’t give beer to any of the pledges.

“He lied about that,” Scicchitano said. 

Emily Reddy is the news director at WPSU-FM, the NPR-affiliate public radio station for central and northern Pennsylvania.
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