Crime

New at the fourth Penn State fraternity hearing? PSU employee and FBI agent testified

Former Beta Theta Pi president Brendan Young arrived at the Centre County Courthouse on Aug. 21, 2018, for the first day of the fourth preliminary hearing related to Timothy Piazza’s death.
Former Beta Theta Pi president Brendan Young arrived at the Centre County Courthouse on Aug. 21, 2018, for the first day of the fourth preliminary hearing related to Timothy Piazza’s death. Centre Daily Times, file

Seven former Beta Theta Pi fraternity brothers returned to Happy Valley on the second day of fall semester classes at Penn State, but their appearance was for the first day of the fourth preliminary hearing after the investigation into Timothy Piazza’s death.

Former fraternity president Brendan Young and pledgemaster Daniel Casey were among those to appear before District Judge Carmine Prestia Tuesday. Half of Centre County’s district judges have now presided over a preliminary hearing associated with the case.

Video from inside the fraternity during the night of Piazza’s falls was played again — which prompted Jim and Evelyn Piazza to leave the courtroom — but Penn State’s Director of Health Promotion and Wellness testified for the prosecution about the university’s Student Alcohol Feedback and Education (SAFE) program for the first time.

Linda LaSalle testified the SAFE program is an alcohol harm reduction program that all first-year students must complete. After questioning from defense attorney Steven Trialonas, LaSalle testified, however, there are no consequences if students don’t complete the program.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Andrew Notaristefano’s questioning of LaSalle drew ire from several defense attorneys. Jeffrey Veitch called it a “Hail Mary” and Andrew Shubin said the testimony seemed to have no value.

Deputy Attorney General Megan Madaffari questioned a computer and forensic examiner from the FBI. Braxton Becker allegedly deleted video from the fraternity’s DVR before it was ultimately recovered by the FBI.

The examiner testified he has worked on “hundreds and hundreds” of hard drives in his career, but had never seen a “Clear All Data” message in the log until he reviewed the fraternity footage.

Madaffari asked him what may have caused the deletion and he testified, “Some kind of user initiation.”

While “some kind of user” would be responsible for the deletion, he testified in response to a question from defense attorney Karen Muir that the forensic examination would not determine who was responsible for the deletion.

Tuesday’s hearing occurred because the Office of the Attorney General reinstated the charges after President Judge Pamela Ruest granted the AG’s motion alleging improper dismissal by District Judge Allen Sinclair.

Three former fraternity brothers — Luke Visser, Joseph Sala and Gary DiBileo — appealed Ruest’s ruling to the Superior Court. Their cases were put on hold, which left Michael Bonatucci, Nicholas Kubera, Jonah Neuman, and Joshua Kurczewski alongside Young, Casey and Becker Tuesday.

Neither the AG’s office or defense attorneys spoke after the hearing because of Judge Jonathan Grine’s gag order.

The hearing is scheduled for five additional days.

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