Crime

Does Beta Theta Pi's recovered video clarify the case or clear the former brothers?

Piazza attorney Tom Kline calls hearing on new charges "a continuation of the same"

Attorney for Jim and Evelyn Piazza, Tom Kline, said testimony regarding the deleted video discovered in the hazing case of Beta Theta pledge Tim Piazza would be "key testimony" in a preliminary hearing continuing May 3, 2018, in Bellefonte.
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Attorney for Jim and Evelyn Piazza, Tom Kline, said testimony regarding the deleted video discovered in the hazing case of Beta Theta pledge Tim Piazza would be "key testimony" in a preliminary hearing continuing May 3, 2018, in Bellefonte.

Prosecutors played previously deleted video clips from the basement of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house for a second consecutive day Thursday and a former brother's defense attorney questioned a detective's potential bias.

The lights in the basement video are flashing, sporadic and multicolored, while there are numerous former brothers and pledges that fill each frame of the video. Philip Masorti, defense attorney for Ryan Burke, argued the footage is not clear enough for State College police detective David Scicchitano to identify specific brothers.

"He (Scicchitano) has reviewed these, probably, ad nauseam. His travel log is useful to the court in terms of identifying what's going on," District Judge Steven Lachman said as he overruled Masorti's first objection.

"That many hours leads to an investigatory bias. It might be subconscious to detective Scicchitano," Masorti said in his second objection.

"I happen to agree with you. From this particular video, I didn't see him (a fraternity member) take a swig from the bottle," Lachman said as he again overruled Masorti's objection, but left open the option for Masorti to revisit the question. "You may have lost the battle, but won the war."

Chief Deputy Attorney General Andrew Notaristefano continued to play individual compilations for several other brothers who are charged.

Stephanie Cesare, Jason Dunkle, James Burke, Steven Passarello and John Sughrue all raised objections similar to Masorti, claiming the video was not clear enough to identify specific brothers.

Cesare represents Joseph Ems. Jr., Dunkle represents Brian Gelb, James Burke represents Patrick Jackson, Passarello represents Donald Prior and Sughrue represents Bo Han Song.

Notaristefano then played video of 19-year-old pledge Timothy Piazza staggering throughout the Beta Theta Pi house before suffering a fall down the basement stairs, which made him unconscious.

Lachman interrupted Notaristefano's video compilation and asked if the video after Piazza's fall was relevant because the charges against the 12 former brothers happened at what he called the "front-end of the night."

Notaristefano said the video after Piazza's fall may not be relevant, but he was attempting to establish the reckless endangerment charges against five of the 12 former brothers.

"You've established causation," Lachman said. "Move on to something else."

Notaristefano obliged and eventually delved into the details of the video deletion.

Scicchitano testified he became aware of potential basement video when State College police detective Craig Ripka was reviewing video in an unrelated incident involving a former Beta Theta Pi brother.

During his review of the video, Scicchitano testified the footage began on Feb. 6, 2017, at about 10:09 a.m., which was the same day a "Clear all data" log was found. The FBI office in Philadelphia confirmed the "Clear all data" log during their recovery efforts.

Scicchitano also testified he was told it was a manual deletion and further investigation revealed Braxton Becker was the sole operator of the video in the house, according to Scicchitano's testimony.

Notaristefano also presented several text messages between Becker and other brothers that indicated a desire to suppress the video from law enforcement.

"Erasing the camera could be the look if nobody found out," a person texted Becker.

"I think the exact same thing," Becker responded.

During Scicchitano's cross-examination, Masorti established Scicchitano has become skilled at identifying intoxicated individuals in his 24 years at the State College police department. He then cited a statement from Scicchitano's affidavit of probable cause, which said the first time Piazza appeared intoxicated was 9:54 p.m.

Masorti then said his client allegedly gave Piazza vodka at 9:46 p.m. and asked Scicchitano if it is reckless to give someone alcohol if they don't appear intoxicated. Scicchitano said it was not, but Notaristefano objected to the question because he argued Ryan Burke's perception in person would be different than Scicchitano's perception of what he called a "grainy video."

The video was the same footage Notaristefano presented in his direct examination of Scicchitano.

Eight of 12 defendants had their attorneys cross-examine Scicchitano and the remaining four defendants are scheduled to have their attorneys cross-examine him Friday. Prosecutors plan to call Ripka as their second and final witness. Each defense attorney said they do not plan to call their own witnesses and both sides agreed they anticipated finishing the hearing Friday.

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