A judge has thrown out charges of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault against former members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity who had been indicted by a grand jury over the death of pledge Timothy Piazza at Penn State.
A total of 18 Beta Theta Pi members were named in the grand jury's indictment released in May. As of Friday's ruling, 14 still face charges, after the judge dismissed the cases against four of the men.
Magisterial District Judge Allen Sinclair ruled that the former fraternity members should face charges that include hazing, reckless endangerment and furnishing alcohol — all misdemeanor crimes.
The dismissal of many charges came after days of preliminary hearings in the case. Two defendants had waived the preliminary hearing. Coming into court Friday, eight former Beta Theta Pi members had been facing involuntary manslaughter charges; others were accused of aggravated assault, a felony.
Piazza died in February after a night of excessive drinking that a grand jury in Centre County, Pa., had said was "the direct result of encouraged reckless conduct." After Piazza's death, Beta Theta Pi was permanently banned from the school.
"Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller called the judge's decision an 'error of law' and said she'll refile some charges," reports Min Xian of WPSU, a member station whose broadcast license is held by the university. The station's journalists, not school administrators, produce and edit its reports.
"This is how we do it," Parks Miller said after the ruling. "We get a second shot, and we're absolutely going to take it."
An appeal would mean that the case goes before a different judge. Citing the grand jury's finding of probable cause, the prosecutor added that her office will "carefully consider" whether to seek the manslaughter charge again.
Additional charges could also come, Parks Miller said, mentioning video footage — an apparent reference to the fraternity house's surveillance footage that was recorded during the "bid party" that ended in the death of Piazza, 19.
As we reported when the most serious charges were filed back in May, "Piazza's injuries included a fracture at the base of his skull and a ruptured spleen. It wasn't until 10:48 a.m. the morning after a Feb. 2 party that an ambulance was called."