AG’s office seeks jail time for first guilty plea in Beta Theta Pi case

Ryan Burke, a former Beta Theta Pi fraternity brother, pleaded guilty for his role in Timothy Piazza’s death at the Centre County Courthouse Annex on June 13, 2018.
Ryan Burke, a former Beta Theta Pi fraternity brother, pleaded guilty for his role in Timothy Piazza’s death at the Centre County Courthouse Annex on June 13, 2018. Centre Daily Times, file

The first former Beta Theta Pi fraternity brother who pleaded guilty for his role in 19-year-old pledge Timothy Piazza will be sentenced Tuesday and the Office of the Attorney General is asking that he get jail time.

Ryan Burke, Beta Theta Pi’s former “rush chair,” is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Brian Marshall after entering an open guilty plea in June to all nine charges that were bound over for trial.

“Alcohol hazing is, in essence, a game of Russian Roulette. Every scenario like this one presents the potential for deadly consequences in a number of different ways. This time, the consequence was dire, irreparable and tragic beyond words,” Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Zarallo wrote in his pre-sentencing memorandum.

“The fact that the act of hazing under count 1 before this court was a direct link to Mr. Piazza’s death is an aggravating factor that warrants sentencing in the aggravated range of 90 days incarceration,” Zarallo wrote.

Burke’s open guilty plea also allowed Jim and Evelyn Piazza, Timothy Piazza’s parents, to submit a victim impact statement to Marshall.

“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 recounted the days after his son’s death when reporters from every major media outlet were calling and hoping to speak to the family.

“We minded to our business and tried to make sense of it all. We had a funeral to plan,” Jim Piazza wrote. “Planning your child’s funeral, trying to decide to bury him or cremate him, meeting with priests, planning a wake and a repast, etc. may be the hardest thing anyone ever would have to do.”

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

“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.”

Jim Piazza looks up as Evelyn Piazza looks forward as they listen to former Centre County District Attorney Stacey Parks Miller speak during a news conference on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, at the Centre County Courthouse Annex. Phoebe Sheehan Centre Daily Times, file

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.

Evelyn Piazza also wrote a statement for Marshall to consider.

She said it took 19 years to create an “amazing, beautiful, kind, trusting boy,” but only 12 hours to destroy him and her life.

“This is HELL! And I am still not on speaking terms with God. My faith is shattered because my heart is shattered,” Evelyn Piazza wrote. “He was sentenced to death by those fraternity brothers who mistreated him and now I am sentenced to life without half my heart, half my life’s purpose.”

Burke’s attorney Philip Masorti said he filed a pre-sentencing memorandum as well, but did not disclose what was in the memo.