What can and cannot be said about a grand jury investigation has been in the news around Pennsylvania and in Centre County in recent years.
Now it is coming back up as the Centre County District Attorney’s Office reacts to Philadelphia Inquirer articles about the Beta Theta Pi investigation.
The articles paint a picture of the February evening Timothy Piazza fell at the Penn State fraternity house, suffering injuries that would lead to his death two days later. Some of that information comes from Centre County defense attorneys.
At least two Centre County lawyers were listed as representing fraternity members. Others said they didn’t want to be identified due to the ongoing grand jury investigation, according to the Inquirer.
“I am disappointed that criminal defense lawyers seek to shape the public dialogue of an investigation to influence prospective jurors in the event arrests are made,” Centre County DA Stacy Parks Miller said. “I caution anyone involved in any of our investigations that our office will investigate and prosecute persons who violate grand jury secrecy provisions.”
Several attorneys have responded to the DA’s statement.
“My aim was not to upset the DA,” said Matt McClenahen, one of the attorneys quoted.
He said he did not believe he was doing anything wrong, having signed no documents regarding secrecy, as he has done in other grand jury situations. He said he also received no instructions regarding secrecy for any involvement.
That’s not unusual, according to attorney Stephanie Cooper.
“The attorney takes no oath of secrecy. There is nothing that prevents an attorney from having a conversation,” she said.
Cooper also pointed to the oath given to witnesses before a grand jury, saying it specifically gives them the freedom to talk to their attorney or anyone else unless told otherwise.
There are restrictions on grand jurors and prosecutors, however.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane lost her law license and was convicted of being behind a grand jury leak. Leaks have also been brought up in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case and are a focus in his ongoing Post-conviction Collateral Relief Act petition as he seeks a new trial or an overturned conviction.
Testimony during the Sandusky case has sometimes centered around the issue of who can talk about grand jury issues and who can’t.
“One of the great misconceptions is that grand jury leaks happen all the time and they are all illegal leaks,” Sandusky prosecutor Frank Fina said when subpoenaed to testify in August. “I was never able to determine if the leak (in Sandusky’s case) was proper or not,” he said.