District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller and Beta Theta Pi attorney Michael Leahey made arguments Friday before President Judge Thomas Kistler in motions for the return of video surveillance equipment taken from the fraternity house in February.
In a series of legal actions stretching back to April, the Alpha Upsilon chapter of Beta Theta Pi has repeatedly attempted to secure the return of two video recorder boxes taken from the house by State College police as evidence in the criminal case surrounding the death of Timothy Piazza. Piazza died from injuries sustained at a pledge party in February. Court orders granting the return of the equipment have subsequently been blocked by appeals from Parks Miller, citing the need to retain the equipment as part of an ongoing investigation.
Most recently, an order signed Aug. 7 by Kistler gave the State College police 10 days to designate a forensic video analyst, reinstating all provisions of an order made on May 30. Parks Miller in return filed a motion asking Kistler for a dismissal.
State College police Detective Keith Robb testified on behalf of the commonwealth, stating consent to retrieve video footage was given to police on Feb. 6 by Beta Theta Pi president Brendan Young. However, the amount of footage was simply too large to download at the house; Robb said it took three hours to download just 10 minutes of footage.
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Police received consent a second time on Feb. 8 by house adviser Tim Bream to take the actual video equipment — two “Speco Tech DVR boxes” — which would be returned when police “were finished with them.”
This unspecified “finished” time was argued by Leahey to have led Beta Theta Pi to believe the equipment would be returned as soon as the footage was downloaded. Parks Miller argued that the police have a right to retain seized footage until the end of an investigation.
Parks Miller further argued under the rules of discovery that the fraternity should only have access to the footage that is relevant to the case, saying further that when copies of the hours depicting Piazza’s involvement were provided specifically to Leahey, he openly shared it with fellow defense attorneys who were not meant to receive that footage at this stage of the proceeding.
Leahey argued that the video footage is the property of Beta Theta Pi, and that the district attorney has no right directing what it can do with its own property. He further accused Parks Miller of delaying access to the footage until a time when it no longer had any relevance.
Kistler said he would issue a ruling on the case, but that ruling is not likely to come before the Beta Theta Pi preliminary hearing resumes Aug. 31.