A judge has dismissed all involuntary manslaughter charges against five defendants in the Penn State hazing case in relation to the death of pledge Timothy Piazza. This is the second time Judge Allen Sinclair has thrown out those charges.
The judge also dismissed all the reckless endangerment charges that eight defendants faced. Those charges were refiled by former Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller last November, after Sinclair dismissed them last September.
President of the now-banned Beta Theta Pi fraternity, Brendan Young, and pledge master, Daniel Casey, each will face one count of conspiracy to commit hazing. Those were new charges filed by the state Attorney General’s office, after they took over the case in January.
Defendants and former Beta Theta Pi members, Gary DiBileo, Luke Visser and Michael Bonatucci, each will face multiple counts of furnishing and unlawful acts relative to minors.
Visser’s lawyer, Ted Simon, said the court has consistently determined the serious charges filed against his client to be “unfounded, unwarranted and unjustified.”
“This was a sad and tragic loss of life but not every unfortunate tragedy should result in serious criminal charges,” Simon said.
During the three-day preliminary hearing, prosecution went through two hours of video compilation, showing footage of each of the fraternity members facing furnishing and hazing charges handing alcohol to minors on bid acceptance night.
Many defense lawyers argued that their clients were not aware of Piazza’s alleged fall down the basement steps in the fraternity house, nor did they understand the severe injuries he suffered.
Leonard Ambrose is the defense attorney for Joe Sala. Sala was cleared of charges brought against him in this hearing Ambrose said the court made the right decision.
“These refiled charges shouldn’t have been filed against Joe Sala,” Ambrose said. “They were refiled by the former district attorney, in my opinion, out of spite.”
Sala still faces hazing-related charges, which were sent to trial.
In a statement, Tom Kline, lawyer for the Piazza family, said although disappointed, the Piazzas remain optimistic the state AG’s office will earn justice for their son.
“The parents of Tim Piazza are heartened that the important newly filed conspiracy charge has now been added and will move forward to trial along with the charges of reckless endangerment and hazing. These charges carry with them significant penalties, including substantial jail time,” Kline said in the statement.
Piazza died in February 2017 from severe head trauma, traumatic brain injury and a ruptured spleen, after allegedly falling down the stairs. He was given 18 drinks in 82 minutes and reached a dangerous blood alcohol concentration level of between 0.28 and 0.36 percent. It was ruled an accidental death.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro issued a statement, saying the case is still ongoing.
“We will move forward with our case and the charges that were held for trial today,” Shapiro said. “I am disappointed by the decision of the Magisterial District Judge and we are assessing our legal options. My office is committed to seeking justice for Timothy Piazza and his family and holding responsible individuals accountable for their actions, consistent with the law and the evidence in this case.”
A total of 26 students were charged in the case. The next preliminary hearing for other defendants will start on May 2.