Crime

Highest graded charges again dismissed against former Penn State frat brothers

Former Beta Theta Pi house manager Braxton Becker, right, arrived at the Centre County Courthouse on Aug. 21 for the first day of the fourth preliminary hearing related to Timothy Piazza’s death.
Former Beta Theta Pi house manager Braxton Becker, right, arrived at the Centre County Courthouse on Aug. 21 for the first day of the fourth preliminary hearing related to Timothy Piazza’s death. Centre Daily Times, file

The Office of the Attorney General got the preliminary hearing it asked for, but a third district judge delivered a ruling similar to the two before him.

District Judge Carmine Prestia dismissed all involuntary manslaughter and recklessly endangering another person charges against former Beta Theta Pi fraternity brothers who were charged after the investigation into Timothy Piazza’s February 2017 death.

Six of the seven former brothers entered the hearing already bound over for trial on a plethora of other charges. Former house manager Braxton Becker was the exception.

In May, District Judge Steven Lachman dismissed the three charges stemming from the allegation that Becker intentionally deleted video from the fraternity’s basement. Jim and Evelyn Piazza’s attorney Tom Kline previously said Lachman’s decision left the family “dismayed.”

Prestia doubled down on Lachman’s ruling and again dismissed all charges against Becker.

“The evidence is insufficient to point directly to the defendant as having been the person who initiated any erasure of data. The systems were known to have problems, some cameras were not working and the LAN indication on the log indicates possible remote access to the devices,” Prestia said.

Becker’s attorney Karen Muir declined to comment because of Judge Jonathan Grine’s gag order. While Becker is no longer charged in the case, she also represents Reginald Goeke, who was bound over for trial on two misdemeanors.

“While it might not apply to Braxton, the spirit of the order is to not have this case tried in the press and a comment from me would violate that,” Muir said.

0821_Beta1
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

Former fraternity president Brendan Young and pledgemaster Daniel Casey were the two highest ranking members of the fraternity involved in the fourth overall preliminary hearing.

Prestia dismissed the involuntary manslaughter and recklessly endangering another person charges, but bound each of them over for trial on 30 counts of hazing.

“The evidence is clear that defendant planned with others and participated in hazing rituals both in 2016 and 2017,” Prestia said.

Michael Bonatucci, Nicholas Kubera, Jonah Neuman and Joshua Kurczewski were the remaining former brothers in the preliminary hearing.

Bonatucci, Kubera, Neuman and Kurczewski each had one count of hazing bound over for trial. Their remaining charges were dismissed.

One of Kubera’s four charges was unlawful acts relative to liquor, which Prestia said he dismissed because it is “better dealt with as part of the hazing charge.”

Prestia announced his ruling Friday after presiding over two days of testimony and reviewing information from previous hearings on Thursday.

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