Crime

Beta Theta Pi frat brother sentenced in Penn State hazing death of Timothy Piazza

Ryan Burke’s attorney, Philip Masorti, speaks to the press after Burke’s sentencing on Tuesday, July 31, 2018 at the Centre County Courthouse Annex.
Ryan Burke’s attorney, Philip Masorti, speaks to the press after Burke’s sentencing on Tuesday, July 31, 2018 at the Centre County Courthouse Annex. Centre Daily Times, file

The first former Beta Theta Pi fraternity brother to plead guilty will not spend time in jail for his role in 19-year-old pledge Timothy Piazza’s death.

Instead, Ryan Burke was sentenced to three months of house arrest in Lackawanna County, 27 months of probation, 100 hours of community service and was fined more than $3,000 on Tuesday.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Zarallo asked Judge Brian Marshall to sentence Beta Theta Pi’s former “rush chair” to 30 days in jail, two years probation and 100 hours of community service but his request was denied at the Centre County Courthouse Annex.

Attorney Philip Masorti talks to the media about his client Ryan Burke's sentencing in his involvement for the death to Timothy Piazza.

Burke’s attorney, Philip Masorti, asked the judge for one year of court supervision and 200 hours of community service.

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 he fell down the fraternity’s basement steps, became unconscious and died two days later on Feb. 4, 2017.

Burke was also one of four former brothers who carried Piazza up the stairs after he fell and became unconscious.

The 21-year-old from Scranton pleaded guilty to nine charges — including four counts of hazing — on June 13.

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.

Burke initially faced 17 charges, including one felony. District Judge Steven Lachman dismissed four counts of furnishing liquor to minors and one count of recklessly endangering another person in May.

Three charges — aggravated assault, involuntary manslaughter and simple assault — were withdrawn by Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office before Burke’s preliminary hearing.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

Marshall delivered his sentence despite victim impact statements from Jim and Evelyn Piazza, Timothy Piazza’s parents.

“Tim died in the early morning of Feb. 4 with my wife, my older son (Michael), Tim’s girlfriend and I at his side. Our world changed forever at that moment,” Jim Piazza wrote. “All he was trying to do was join an organization and make new friends.”

Jim Piazza also wrote that he can no longer look at pictures of Tim or go into his room, which has not been touched and appears as though the Piazza family is waiting for him to come home.

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Jim and Evelyn Piazza walk toward the Courthouse Annex for former Beta Theta Pi fraternity member Ryan Burke’s sentencing on Tuesday, July 31, 2018 in Bellefonte. Phoebe Sheehan Centre Daily Times, file

“I spend holidays, Father’s Day and his birthday at the cemetery. When I go to church — which has become less frequent — I see the vision of Tim’s body in a casket at his wake and funeral,” Jim Piazza wrote. “Before I close my eyes every night I have the vision of Tim lying in the hospital bed all battered and bruised on life-support. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I think of is Tim laying in the basement slowly dying.”

He also wrote he was pleased Burke pleaded guilty, but questioned his remorse because he had more than a year to plead guilty, but waited until the charges were bound over for trial.

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