The most serious charges have once again been dismissed against five Beta Theta Pi fraternity members related to the death of sophomore pledge Timothy Piazza in 2017.
President Judge Pamela Ruest again dismissed involuntary manslaughter charges against Brendan Young, Daniel Casey, Jonah Neuman, Gary Dibileo and Luke Visser in the Penn State student's death, thereby ruling against the attorney general's office's appeal to have the charges reinstated.
"We view the ruling by Judge Ruest as a procedural ruling, now allowing the Attorney General (Josh Shapiro) to re-file charges rather than appeal to the Common Pleas court," Piazza family attorney Tom Kline said. "Ultimately, the issue of whether involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy will be tried against a number of individuals, against whom the charges are currently dismissed, will be likely decided by the Pennsylvania appeals courts."
District Judge Allen Sinclair dismissed all involuntary manslaughter charges for a second time on March 28. He dismissed 271 charges in total and bound 30 of the refiled charges over for trial.
The attorney general's office filed a notice of appeal on April 26 after again refiling the manslaughter charges. Former Centre County district attorney Stacy Parks Miller first refiled manslaughter charges in December.
"We laid out the required elements of the charges which were dismissed at a preliminary hearing last month," Joe Grace, spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General Josh Shapiro, said at that time. "In the interest of justice for the Piazza family, our office today filed a notice of appeal with respect to charges against eight of the defendants in this case."
Lawyers for the defendants fought back against the state's attempt to appeal at a hearing in May, accusing the state of trying to "circumvent its limited option to refile charges" and saying there was no valid basis by which to seek a hearing in front of a new judge.
Sinclair had initially dismissed all felony counts in the fraternity case in September 2017, after a preliminary hearing that spanned multiple moths.
Although the order marks the third time the felony charges have been dismissed, the attorney general’s office remains undeterred.
Spokesman for the AG's office Joe Grace told the CDT that this ruling is "just another step in this protracted legal process," and that the office "remains committed to seeking justice for Timothy Piazza and his family and holding responsible individuals accountable for their actions consistent with the law and the evidence."
Piazza died on Feb. 4, 2017, after reportedly falling down the stairs during a Beta Theta Pi bid acceptance night. A lengthy investigation into his death eventually led to charges against the Alpha Upsilon chapter of the fraternity as well as 18 Beta members.