Questions about the potential for additional culprits and new video footage highlighted the fourth day of the preliminary hearing for 19 parties charged in the death of Penn State student Timothy Piazza.
Piazza, 19, died in early February after a bid acceptance social event held at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house on Penn State’s campus. Eighteen fraternity members face various charges related to his death, as does the Alpha Upsilon chapter of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity itself.
Due to the number of those charged, the preliminary hearing has stretched out over several days, with one day of testimony on behalf of the prosecution in June moving over to cross-examinations by defense attorneys over two days in July.
Thursday opened with defense attorney Theodore Simon, representing Beta Theta Pi member Luke Visser, questioning the voluntary nature of the pledge events, implying that if a pledge had been bothered by the activities, he did not have to return to the fraternity. He also questioned the involvement of the Trilogy club — the organization of women identified as the defunct Tri Delta sorority — which was invited to the event that evening.
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State College police Detective David Scicchitano testified that he was not aware if any of the Trilogy members brought alcohol.
Simon argued that it was important to determine if any of the members brought any of the alcohol that Piazza consumed, but an objection to the relevance of the case was sustained by presiding District Judge Allen Sinclair.
Simon then accused the prosecution of “cherry-picking” surveillance footage to show to the court, saying that during the early morning hours before Piazza was found in the basement, he could be seen walking to a set of patio doors and closing them. Simon also provided still photos of the footage, claiming this “critically important” footage showed Piazza was cognitively functional during this time.
In redirect, District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller played the video clip in question, which had not been included during the three hours of footage shown on the first day of the hearing. Piazza’s parents, who have been in attendance at every hearing, stepped out of the courtroom.
The footage, which showed between 7:12 to 7:16 a.m. Feb. 3, shows one of the pledges leaving the house through the patio doors and leaving them open. Shortly after, Piazza comes into the frame, walking unsteadily to the doors before falling into them.
He then walks away from the doors and collapses into a chair, where he lays for a few minutes. He then gets up, walks to the doors and closes them before returning to the chair.
Several attorneys raised the role Penn State assistant athletic director Tim Bream played in the night in question, noting that Bream acted as the adviser for the house.
Leonard Ambrose, representing Joe Sala, questioned Scicchitano on the length of time Bream served as house manager, noting that multiple alcohol-related events occurred during his time. While Scicchitano could not testify that Bream was present during 2016 bid acceptance nights, he did confirm Bream had been in charge during three rush events in 2017 where alcohol was present.
Scicchitano testified again to statements made by Bream, saying that he had been at the house that evening but went to bed at the conclusion of the bid acceptance ceremony, before the alcohol obstacle course ensued. He testified that he did not learn if Bream had obtained approval through the Intrafraternity Council to have alcohol at any of the Beta Theta Pi events.
Attorney Evan Kelly, representing Craig Heimer, further questioned Scicchitano about Bream. The detective testified that he had no knowledge of whether Bream had been in attendance at other parties at the house.
Kelly went on to argue that if his client believed he was operating under Bream’s consent, it absolved him of the intent to endanger another person.
Parks Miller spoke to reporters after the hearing ended for the day, saying there was no basis for charging Bream with a crime, “otherwise we would have charged him.” She dismissed the questions as attempting to deflect responsibility from their younger clients onto an older individual.
“I challenge any of them,” she said. “If you have evidence about what Tim Bream or any of them did, bring it on. (The police) are happy to receive it.”
Cross-examination for four fraternity members remain — Braxton Becker, Joseph Ems Jr., Ryan McCann and Lucas Rockwell. Parks Miller said she expects the hearing to wrap up Friday.