Recovered video leads to new charges in Penn State fraternity death

Twelve more members of Penn State’s Beta Theta Pi fraternity have been charged in the death of pledge Timothy Piazza after prosecutors were able to recover deleted surveillance video from the night of his death — video that shows the sophomore being given at least 18 drinks in 82 minutes.

Also as a result of the video, five fraternity members already charged in the case face additional charges, Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said.

Nine members already charged in the case face no new charges. It means a total of 26 fraternity members are charged with various offenses stemming from Piazza’s death.

The new defendants face charges that include involuntary manslaughter, assault, hazing and furnishing alcohol to minors, all related to additional alcohol hazing that prosecutors say was caught on cameras in the basement of the fraternity house in the Pennsylvania town of State College.

Piazza, 19, died after his first night pledging Beta Theta Pi, a fraternity that was supposed to be alcohol-free as a result of a suspension eight years ago. Surveillance footage previously played in court shows Piazza falling repeatedly, including down a flight of stairs, after the February 2 event.

Prosecutors previously believed that the basement cameras were not working, but Parks Miller said Monday that fraternity member Braxton Becker deleted the basement footage in front of the police as they were collecting it.

Becker is charged with tampering with evidence, obstructing justice and hindering apprehension. His attorney, Karen Muir, could not immediately be reached for comment.

“He deleted it in front of the police,” Parks Miller said, adding that the forensic analysis showed Becker made “a series of deliberate commands” on the machine to delete the basement portion of the video.

The upstairs footage remained, revealing part of the hazing ritual, followed by several hours of Piazza stumbling and repeatedly falling.

“Piazza never obtained any of those drinks himself,” Parks Miller said. “Brothers were coming over and giving it to him.”

During a news conference on Monday announcing the new charges, Piazza’s father, Jim, was trembling and fidgeting, at times shaking his head in anger.

“We spent the last eight months wondering how this could happen,” he said. “Visions of him laying in the hospital bed, battered and bruised, looking like he got hit by a tractor-trailer made no sense.”

He referenced statements by the defendants, who said they did not know everything that had happened that night.

“Guess what, guys. Now we know,” Piazza said.

THE FULL STATEMENT FROM JIM AND EVELYN PIAZZA

We would like to thank the District Attorney and the State College police for their continued commitment and effort’s in finding justice for our son Tim’s death. Tim was a happy and caring human being and a wonderful son who just wanted to join an organization to find friendships and camaraderie. Instead he was killed at the hands of those he was seeking friendship from.

We have spent the past eight months wondering — how can this happen on the campus of Penn State? The visions of him lying in a hospital bed, battered and bruised, and on life support looking as if he got hit by a tractor-trailer make no sense. He was just trying to join an organization. Over the last several months we listened to defense arguments centered around victim blaming or how could the defendants have known they were putting someone seriously at risk since no one died before, as if they were entitled to one free death, or the catch all argument of “we don’t know”.

They claimed we don’t know what else happened other than what was seen in the upstairs video and we don’t know what happened in the basement. Guess what guys — now we know. We know there were more criminal and egregious negligent behavior by the same and more people. As for the argument of how could they know they were putting someone seriously at risk — that’s a joke. Did none of them pay attention in their high school health class? Coercing someone to drink 7-8 drinks in 12 minutes or close to 20 drinks in a matter of 90 minutes is egregiously reckless and according to the police and the DA is criminal. Then they left him to die alone and tried to cover it up.

Hazing is illegal and justice needs to be served. It’s time to man up fellas and be held accountable for your actions. We are making holiday plans without our son Tim because of your actions. If you did not commit the acts you did, we would not be here today and we would be anxiously awaiting Tim’s return home for Thanksgiving break on Friday. Instead we are asking — how do we make sense of the obvious void on Thanksgiving?

Hazing needs to stop. There is just no place for it. A statement needs to be made. Universities throughout the country are starting to take a much tougher stance against hazing and the hazers. We applaud them. The leadership at Penn State needs to take a tougher stance and should start by following through on their own proposals. However, I remain concerned.

We would also like to thank our family, friends and the thousands of total strangers, who share our common goal of justice and an end to hazing, for all of their continued support, thoughts, and prayers. We know we are not on this journey alone. This was evidenced by a letter we received just last week from a complete stranger who said, “I will always remember Tim, because his life mattered to me.”

Thank you.