Crime

Video footage played during preliminary hearing for Beta Theta Pi fraternity members

A preliminary hearing for the Beta Theta Pi fraternity members charged for their alleged roles in the death of pledge Timothy Piazza, 19, began Monday morning at the Centre County Courthouse.
A preliminary hearing for the Beta Theta Pi fraternity members charged for their alleged roles in the death of pledge Timothy Piazza, 19, began Monday morning at the Centre County Courthouse. Centre Daily Times, file

The video depicting Timothy Piazza’s last moments at a Penn State fraternity were made public Monday during a preliminary hearing at the Centre County Courthouse.

The hearing centered around the Beta Theta Pi fraternity members charged for their alleged roles in Piazza’s death.

Braxton Becker, Michael Bonatucci, Daniel Casey, Gary Dibileo, Joseph Ems Jr., Ryan Foster, Edward Gilmartin III, Craig Heimer, Lars Kenyon, Nicholas Kubera, Ryan McCann, Jonah Neuman, Lucas Rockwell, Joseph Sala, Michael Schiavone, Luke Visser, Parker Yochim, Brendan Young and the Alpha Upsilon Chapter of Beta Theta face charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to tampering with evidence following a lengthy investigation into Piazza’s death and recommendations by the Centre County grand jury.

The fraternity members and their respective attorneys appeared in a full courtroom scene Monday. Foster and Gilmartin were granted early waivers, according to court documents, and were not in attendance.

An early attempt by the attorneys to have the preliminary hearings severed was denied by District Judge Allen Sinclair, who presided over the hearing.

District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller called State College police Detective David Scicchitano to the stand, who testified for part of the morning on his findings during his investigation. Testimony included his observations of Piazza, who Scicchitano said he briefly observed before Piazza was flown from Mount Nittany Medical Center to Hershey Medical Center.

The court was shown photos of Piazza in the hospital, with obvious markings on his head, face and legs.

Scicchitano also testified about his observations of Piazza captured on the fraternity camera system, describing the drinking done by the pledges and Piazza’s subsequent falls.

“He looked dead,” Scicchitano said of the second time Piazza was carried up from the basement the morning of Feb. 4. “He looked like a corpse.”

Edited footage captured by the security cameras was played for the court. Scicchitano indicated there were 12 working cameras in the house that had captured about 13 hours of footage related to the incident.

The footage had been edited down to about three hours for courtroom presentation, he said.

Attorneys for the Beta members objected to having not had the chance to see the footage prior to the hearing. Parks Miller said the full video would be made available during pretrial discovery.

The video began with a group of men gathered in what was identified as the foyer area of the house. Scicchitano noted that the time stamped on the video was more than 30 minutes slower than the actual time of the events.

Pledges, including Piazza, could be seen moving through various points in the house during the drinking “gauntlet,” consuming vodka, beer and wine. Twelve of the 14 pledges, as well as several Beta brothers seen on the footage, were under 21 at the time, Scicchitano said.

As the video progresses, Piazza can be seen staggering around before disappearing from the frame. The next time he’s seen, he’s being carried by four brothers to a couch after reportedly falling down the basement stairs.

Brothers are seen over the next few hours positioning and repositioning him on the couch to keep him from falling. Several times someone is sitting on his legs to keep him from rolling over.

At about 3:50 a.m. camera time, he’s seen alone in the room, rolling around on he floor. Several times he attempts to stand, but falls over.

At about 5 a.m. camera time, he’s seen staggering around the foyer before falling head first onto the stone floor. He soon gets up and heads to the front door but again falls headfirst into the door area.

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