Crime

Former Beta Theta Pi fraternity brother becomes first to concede guilt

Beta Theta Pi brother ‘anxious to make amends,’ attorney says

Former Beta Theta Pi brother Ryan Burke pleaded guilty to charges of hazing in relation to the death of Beta pledge Timothy Piazza in February 2017. Burke's attorney, Philip Masorti, said his client extended his condolences to the Piazza family.
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Former Beta Theta Pi brother Ryan Burke pleaded guilty to charges of hazing in relation to the death of Beta pledge Timothy Piazza in February 2017. Burke's attorney, Philip Masorti, said his client extended his condolences to the Piazza family.

A former Beta Theta Pi fraternity brother became the first to concede guilt for his role in 19-year-old pledge Timothy Piazza's death when he entered an open guilty plea on Wednesday.

"This young man is coming forward to accept responsibility," Philip Masorti, Ryan Burke's attorney, said. "We know the evidence they have against us."

Burke gave Piazza a handle of vodka to drink eight minutes before State College police detective David Scicchitano observed Piazza to be visibly intoxicated on video. The drink was one of 18 Piazza consumed in a span of 82 minutes before falling down the basement steps and becoming unconscious.

The 21-year-old Scranton native pleaded guilty to all nine charges — including four counts of hazing — bound over for trial by District Judge Steven Lachman in May. Lachman's ruling dismissed four counts of furnishing liquor to minors and one count of recklessly endangering another person.

Three charges — aggravated assault, involuntary manslaughter and simple assault — were withdrawn by Attorney General Josh Shapiro's office prior to Burke's preliminary hearing. Shapiro's office accepted the case after District Attorney Bernie Cantorna cited a conflict of interest.

"Tim Piazza's death was a terrible tragedy," Shapiro said in a press release. "My office is committed to seeking justice on behalf of Tim Piazza and his family and holding every responsible individual accountable for their actions."

Masorti said he did not ask for a plea agreement and none was offered by Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Zarallo.

"There are too few words to describe a loss so great. This young man understands that," Masorti said. "Condolences to the Piazza family. This is a tragedy and he is anxious to make amends."

Tom Kline, attorney for the Piazza family, said Burke's open guilty plea would allow Jim and Evelyn Piazza to deliver a victim impact statement at Burke's sentencing.

"We are pleased to see one individual accept responsibility and encourage others to follow in his steps," Kline said.

Burke is scheduled to be sentenced July 31.

Jury selection for the trial of 14 other former fraternity brothers was continued to Aug. 6 by President Judge Pamela Ruest because of "a lack of judicial resources."

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