A contempt hearing for Penn State head athletic trainer Tim Bream was suspended Wednesday morning as Bream took the stand to testify in the sixth day of Beta Theta Pi preliminary hearings at the Centre County Courthouse.
Eighteen Beta members, as well as the Alpha Upsilon chapter of the fraternity, are facing criminal charges in connection with the death of pledge Timothy Piazza, 19, in early February. Bream acted as house adviser and lived in the fraternity house at the time of Piazza’s death.
Prior to Bream taking the stand, attorneys argued the scope of questioning he would be asked, as District Judge Allen Sinclair ruled he could only be questioned on what he knew of the evening.
Questioned by Leonard Ambrose, attorney for Joseph Sala, Bream testified that his role as adviser entailed things like making sure the house remained in good repair, dealing with financial issues and advising in the history of the fraternity.
Bream denied that fraternity members had to come to him for approval of events. He said the events and activities of the house were planned through the executive committee saying his “role is guidance, not as an overlord.”
He also denied approving the much-discussed alcohol obstacle course.
“No way would I give permission to have an alcohol gauntlet, nor did I know about it,” Bream said.
When questioned about text messages between Ed Gilmartin and Lars Kenyon advising to delete group messages as “Tim’s idea,” Bream stated there had been a meeting the afternoon of Feb. 3 at the house where campus grief counselors had been invited.
As a show of respect, he said, members were asked to not discuss Piazza or the incident on social media during the gathering.
Bream was briefly cross-examined after recess by Stephen Trialonas, attorney for Daniel Casey, about an alleged conversation between the two the evening of Feb. 2.
According to his testimony, he and Casey spoke about the bid acceptance ceremony on the balcony prior to the ceremony’s start.
Bream denied seeing a keg of beer on the balcony and didn’t recall seeing Casey drinking either.
Closing arguments began in the late morning with Alpha Upsilon chapter of Beta Theta Pi attorney Michael Leahey, who attempted to distinguish the overall corporation of Beta Theta Pi from the local chapter at Penn State and who should be appropriately charged.
Leahey stated that while State College police Detective David Scicchitano identified each of the fraternity members as defendants, he did not identify exactly who the defendant was in terms of the fraternity itself, having never consulted with the bylaws in establishing a proper corporate identity.
Leahey went on to argue that a local chapter of a fraternity is a distinct entity from the national corporation, likening it to criminal charges against family members — the father does not get charged for the crimes of the son.
District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller countered that the charges are specifically against the fraternity house located at 200 S. Burrowes Road on Penn State’s campus, saying charges against the whole chapter are appropriate as the “high management agents” — the executive board of the fraternity — committed the crimes.
“As a result of board members committing the crimes, de facto, the corporation is responsible,” she said.
Six attorneys were able to complete their closing arguments Wednesday before Sinclair adjourned for the day, including Rocco Cipparone, representing Michael Bonatucci; Stephen Trialonas, representing Daniel Casey; Andrew Shubin, representing Nicolas Kubera; Daniel McGee, representing Jonah Neuman; and Frank Fina, representing Brendan Young.
A common thread ran among many of the closing arguments, as several attorneys stated that the commonwealth simply had not shown evidence of specifics in the case, such as exactly how much Piazza drank, the types of alcohol that were entirely present and who all provided the drinks.
Arguments were made on behalf of clients that testimony shown had limited or no interaction with Piazza at all that night, or did not know he had been injured until much later or at all.
In his closing argument, Cipparone invoked what has been referred to as the “Nixon defense,” saying his client was not even in the house after 11 p.m. and that the commonwealth had to show “what (Bonatucci) knew and when he knew it.”
Several attorneys asked for a complete dismissal of the more serious charges, dropping all but the furnishing or lesser offenses.
In her closing arguments, Parks Miller repeatedly cited case law regarding a woman who was charged with an underage DUI death, saying that even though she did not personally serve alcohol to minors, she created a situation where minors would be furnished that eventually ended in death.
She went on to link the actions of the fraternity members as accomplices, arguing that while certain members may not have been involved in the planning of the event or the purchase of alcohol, they did volunteer to work stations at the obstacle course or were at the very least aware from past experience of the level of intoxication that would result in participation of the gauntlet.
Eleven attorneys must still make closing arguments. The preliminary hearing is expected to resume Thursday morning.