Hazing, booze topics in Penn State frat pledge death hearing

The case centers on the death of a pledge after a night of drinking

FILE – In this April 4, 2017, file photo, Penn State's former Beta Theta Pi fraternity house on Burrowes Road sits empty after being shut down in State College, Pa. A preliminary hearing is set to resume Monday, July 10, for Beta Theta Pi fraternity members who are facing charges in connection with the February death of a pledge after a night of drinking. (Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times via AP, File)

BELLEFONTE, Pa. (AP) — A judge on Monday heard about worried texts from members of a Penn State fraternity and defense questions about whether a pledge had been drinking voluntarily before he died in February.

The preliminary hearing for the Beta Theta Pi fraternity and 16 of its members, accused in the death of 19-year-old pledge Tim Piazza, continued for a second day and was scheduled to resume Tuesday with the continued cross-examination of the lead detective.

So far, the only witness has been State College Police Detective Dave Scicchitano, who discussed text messages that showed fraternity members voicing concerns about having engaged in hazing the night Piazza suffered severe head and abdominal injuries.

Scicchitano told the judge that fraternity member Gary DiBileo texted another member to say: “It’s not the fact that he drank. He drank because we hazed him too. Main word being hazed.”

A defense attorney pressed Scicchitano about whether Piazza, of Lebanon, New Jersey, had been drinking voluntarily as he consumed a dangerous amount of alcohol.

Help was not summoned until the next morning, after Piazza had lost consciousness on the couch of the fraternity chapter house in State College. Piazza later died at a hospital.

The fraternity chapter and 18 members face charges that, for some, include involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault, while others face much less serious offenses. Two waived the hearing.

During the first day of the preliminary hearing last month, prosecutors played lengthy excerpts from the fraternity’s video surveillance system that showed Piazza at first joining other pledges participating in a drinking gauntlet.

At some point, he apparently fell down a set of basement steps and was carried upstairs, and over the ensuing night the footage documented how his life-threatening medical condition went untreated and seemed to deteriorate.

Piazza was shown holding his head and midsection in discomfort and exhibited difficultly standing, falling repeatedly when he was able to get off the couch or floor. Authorities said he suffered a fractured skull, damaged spleen, and bleeding in his brain and abdomen.

Penn State has since permanently banned the Beta Theta Pi chapter.

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This story has been corrected to show two fraternity members previously waived their preliminary hearing.