Crime

Jury reaches mixed verdict in trial for former Penn State frat brother accused of deleting video

Attorney General Josh Shapiro outlines case for charges against Penn State frat members

Pa. Attorney General Josh Shapiro, on May 1, 2018, discusses differences in charges against former Beta Theta Pi fraternity members being pursued by his office and those originally filed by former Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller.
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Pa. Attorney General Josh Shapiro, on May 1, 2018, discusses differences in charges against former Beta Theta Pi fraternity members being pursued by his office and those originally filed by former Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller.

A jury delivered a mixed verdict Thursday in the trial for a former Penn State fraternity brother who was accused of intentionally deleting video from the fraternity’s basement that showed Timothy Piazza’s fall down the steps.

Braxton Becker, Beta Theta Pi’s former house manager, was convicted of one misdemeanor count of hindering apprehension. He was acquitted of misdemeanor counts of evidence tampering and obstruction. Jurors deliberated for about five hours before reading their verdict.

Becker, 22, of Niskayuna, New York, is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 20. He was the first former fraternity brother to be found guilty by a jury after the investigation into Piazza’s death.

Becker’s lawyer, Karen Muir, raised questions throughout her closing argument about what State College police investigators saw as they watched Becker retrieve video from a closet in the fraternity house in February 2017.

Earlier testimony estimated it would have taken Becker about 50 seconds to either disconnect or connect the cord to manage one of the two DVR boxes at the fraternity and delete the video.

Muir silently stood in the courtroom Thursday as a timer on her cellphone counted 50 seconds before asking jurors, “Do you believe (State College police Detective Craig) Ripka wasn’t paying attention during a death investigation?”

She did not comment after the verdict, citing the gag order that is applied in the case.

The missing video went unnoticed until July 2017, when borough police found additional camera angles when they were at the house for an unrelated investigation. The FBI recovered the video, and the agency’s analysis found the footage went missing at the exact time on Feb. 6, 2017, that Becker was photographed by Ripka working with the system.

The first fraternity brother to discuss potentially deleting the video in text messages was Becker, who was “the very person who was elected to manage the video system,” Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Zarallo said during his closing argument.

“It wasn’t planned out in detail by anyone,” Zarallo said. “It’s now or never. And he made a bad call and got caught.”

Those text messages from Becker to his fellow brothers that discussed potentially deleting the video, according to Muir, were “random, panicked thoughts.”

Becker sat throughout the trial while serving a three-year probation sentence. He pleaded guilty in July to three misdemeanor drug charges after a criminal complaint filed by State College police said he was selling large amounts of marijuana in the State College area.

Piazza had severe head and abdominal injuries from his repeated falls and was shown on video stumbling and falling throughout the fraternity house. Members of the fraternity found him in the basement the morning after its bid acceptance night, but waited to call for medical attention.

More than a dozen members of the now-closed fraternity have pleaded guilty, mostly to hazing and alcohol violations.

Former fraternity President Brendan Young and pledgemaster Daniel Casey are the only two former brothers with pending cases, though their cases are on hold because of appeals to the state Superior Court.

Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.
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