Judge sentences former Beta house manager in deadly Penn State hazing case

Former Beta Theta Pi member sentenced in Bellefonte

Former Penn State fraternity member Braxton Becker was sentenced Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019 in Bellefonte.
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Former Penn State fraternity member Braxton Becker was sentenced Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019 in Bellefonte.

The former house manager of a Penn State fraternity where a pledge repeatedly fell during a night of alcoholic drinking and later died was sentenced Wednesday to two years of probation, a $5,000 fine and 100 hours of community service.

Braxton Becker, 23, of Niskayuna, New York, was the first Beta Theta Pi fraternity brother to be convicted by a jury on charges that were filed after Timothy Piazza died in February 2017.

Becker’s sentence, however, will not be the final chapter in the most protracted case of a sprawling criminal investigation into more than two dozen members of the now-shuttered fraternity. After the hearing, defense lawyer Karen Muir said she plans to file an appeal.

Piazza consumed a large quantity of alcohol at the fraternity and portions of his night were captured on the fraternity’s security systems, though footage from the basement was not initially provided to State College police.

Becker was accused of deleting the footage to thwart the department’s investigation in the days after Piazza’s death from severe head and abdominal injuries. He was convicted in May of one misdemeanor count of hindering apprehension, but acquitted of one misdemeanor count each of evidence tampering and obstruction.

Becker was the “gatekeeper of important information” and made a conscious choice, Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Zarallo told Judge Brian Marshall.

The missing video was discovered in July 2017, when former State College police Detective David Scicchitano was in the house for an unrelated investigation and realized there were security camera angles he had not seen before.

Scicchitano, who filed the charges against Becker, is now employed by the state attorney general’s office, borough police said Wednesday.

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Former State College police Detective David Scicchitano leaves the Centre County Courthouse on , May 3, 2018. Abby Drey Centre Daily Times, file

The FBI recovered the footage and said the manual deletion was at the exact time borough police Detective Craig Ripka photographed Becker working with the system.

During the trial, Muir focused on what Ripka observed as Becker retrieved video from a closet in the fraternity house. Testimony indicated it would have taken Becker about 50 seconds to delete the video.

“Do you believe Ripka wasn’t paying attention during a death investigation?” she asked jurors.

The first fraternity brother to discuss potentially deleting the video in text messages was Becker, who was also “the very person who was elected to manage the video system,” Zarallo said during the trial.

Muir argued for a potential probation sentence to run concurrent to the probation he is already serving for an earlier drug conviction or no further penalty at all. Becker did not make a statement before sentencing.

“He has learned a very hard, valuable lesson,” Muir said during the hearing.

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