Manslaughter charges dropped in death of Penn State fraternity pledge

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Tim Piazza

BELLEFONTE, Pa. — A state judge in Pennsylvania threw out involuntary manslaughter charges Friday against eight fraternity members and the Beta Theta Pi fraternity in connection with the death this year of Penn State sophomore Timothy Piazza following an initiation ritual involving alcohol.

All aggravated and simple assault charges stemming from the 2016 rush period also were tossed out by Magisterial District Judge Allen Sinclair in Centre County, Pennsylvania.

Piazza, 19, died following his first night pledging Beta Theta Pi, a fraternity that was supposed to be alcohol-free as a result of a suspension eight years ago. The university, which claims it was not responsible for enforcing the alcohol prohibition, has permanently banned the fraternity from operating on campus.

An attorney for Piazza’s parents said after the hearing that the remaining charges against 14 fraternity members are serious and could result in jail time, if the defendants are found guilty.

Piazza’s death — after a series of falls, including one down a flight of stairs — led to one of the largest criminal indictments against a fraternity and its members in recent history. More than 1,000 counts were levied against 18 Beta Theta Pi members, including eight who were charged with involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault.

After Friday’s ruling, four fraternity brothers are no longer facing charges. Ryan McCann, Lucas Rockwell and Braxton Becker had been charged with tampering with evidence. a Joseph Ems is no longer facing a charge of reckless endangerment.

Several fraternity members were bound over for trial on charges including hazing, furnishing alcohol, reckless endangerment, and tampering with evidence.

Two fraternity brothers who were charged with evidence-tampering — Ryan Foster and Ed Gilmartin — waived their right to this hearing, so their charges will proceed to trial.

District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said after the hearing that she will refile the charges that were dropped, including involuntary manslaughter. She believes the grand jury found enough probable cause and the judge erred in his decision, she said.