Crime

Police testimony, video footage focus of 11-hour hearing

State College police Detective David Scicchitano testified Monday during the preliminary hearing for the Beta Theta Pi fraternity members charged in the deatrh of Timothy Piazza.
State College police Detective David Scicchitano testified Monday during the preliminary hearing for the Beta Theta Pi fraternity members charged in the deatrh of Timothy Piazza. adrey@centredaily.com

A preliminary hearing involving the Beta Theta Pi fraternity members charged in relation to the death of pledge Timothy Piazza was continued Monday after almost 11 hours of testimony.

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 a Centre County grand jury.

Piazza, 19, was pronounced dead Feb. 4 at Hershey Medical Center after several reported falls at the Beta fraternity house the evening of Feb. 2 and the morning of Feb. 3. He had taken part in a fraternity bid acceptance celebration, during which he had reportedly been made to drink large quantities of alcohol.

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 firsthand observations of Piazza, who Scicchitano said he saw briefly 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. “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. Piazza’s parents, who were in attendance at the hearing, stepped out of the courtroom prior to the start of the video.

Attorneys for the Beta brothers 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 stamp 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 members seen on the footage, were younger than 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 seen 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.

Piazza is also seen staggering around the foyer and hall, falling and rolling around on the floor. At one point, a pledge takes a photo of him.

He’s seen crossing the lobby toward the basement at about 7:18 a.m. camera time. He won’t be seen on camera again until 9:30 a.m., when four Beta brothers are seen carrying him from the basement through the foyer into the hall where they lay him on a couch.

For the next 41 minutes, the brothers are seen standing around Piazza, occasionally checking their cellphones and shaking his feet. Piazza never moves.

Scicchitano confirmed that at no point during this time did any of the fraternity members attempt to render aid or call 911.

At 10:11 a.m. camera time, one brother calls 911 while others move about the house cleaning up what Scicchitano called “beer evidence.” EMS wouldn’t arrive until 10:22 a.m. camera time.

He was declared dead at Hershey Medical Center on Feb. 4, Scicchitano said.

Parks Miller presented extensive text messaging evidence between members of the fraternity during the same time frame in 2016, discussing setting up alcohol-related obstacle courses. Scicchitano testified that 29 pledges had participated in the previous semester’s bid acceptance event — all were under the age of 21.

Text messages shown by Parks Miller also reportedly showed fraternity members had ordered pledges to clean the basement of alcohol after Piazza had been taken away. Additional texts discussed deleting group messages so evidence would not be found on Piazza’s phone.

Defense attorneys unanimously motioned that the hearing be continued due to the length of Scicchitano’s testimony and their ability to properly cross-examine him. Given that the hearing was entering its 11th hour, Sinclair granted the motion.

A future hearing date will be determined.

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