HEAT ALERT

Heat advisory continues in New Jersey as highs approach near 100 degrees

Serious charges dismissed in Penn State frat pledge death

<p>A judge Monday threw out the most serious counts against a second set of defendants in a Penn State fraternity pledge's death last year, leaving in place only hazing and alcohol charges that would likely result in little or no jail time.</p>

News 12 Staff

May 7, 2018, 4:10 PM

Updated 2,237 days ago

Share:

Serious charges dismissed in Penn State frat pledge death
By MARK SCOLFORO
Associated Press
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - A judge Monday threw out the most serious counts against a second set of defendants in a Penn State fraternity pledge's death last year, leaving in place only hazing and alcohol charges that would likely result in little or no jail time.
While sending 11 more fraternity brothers to trial, Judge Steven Lachman dismissed reckless endangerment charges and allegations that a member of now-shuttered Beta Theta Pi had erased basement security video to thwart investigators.
It was yet another blow to prosecutors, who have struggled to get the most serious charges to stick against the total of 25 fraternity members now awaiting trial in death of Tim Piazza, 19, of Lebanon, New Jersey.
Piazza died of head and abdominal injuries after a night of drinking that followed a pledge bid acceptance ceremony. He suffered a series of falls, including a plunge down basement steps. After he was discovered unconscious in the basement the next morning, fraternity members waited 40 minutes to summon an ambulance. The amount of alcohol in his system was estimated at three or four times the state's legal limit for driving.
The attorney general's office is seeking to have a judge reinstate charges dismissed in March against eight fraternity brothers among the first group of 14 ordered to stand trial, including involuntary manslaughter charges against five of them. The most serious charge any of the 25 defendants currently face is reckless endangerment, but no felonies.
Prosecutors have not yet decided whether to try to get some of the tossed charges reinstated for the second set of defendants.
An attorney for Piazza's parents, Jim and Evelyn Piazza, said the family is "hopeful that the attorney general will file an appeal so that all individuals will be held fully responsible for their misconduct and so that dangerous and potentially lethal hazing will be deterred."
Lachman dismissed all three counts that Braxton Becker, 21, of Niskayuna, New York, had faced over the allegedly deleted security video - evidence tampering, obstruction and hindering apprehension or prosecution. A message left for his lawyer was not immediately returned.
Piazza family attorney Tom Kline said his clients were dismayed by the judge's decision in Becker's case.
The judge upheld a total of 35 counts of hazing and 37 alcohol-related offenses against the 11 defendants. In addition to Becker's charges, he threw out five counts of reckless endangerment, 34 alcohol-related counts, two counts of hazing and one count of criminal conspiracy against various members of the group.
Joshua Kurczewski of Erie remains charged with nine counts of hazing and eight alcohol-related counts but no longer faces reckless endangerment or conspiracy.
"Obviously we're pleased to have 12 of the counts dismissed, particularly the most serious charges," said his defense attorney, Jeff Veitch. "I felt confident reckless endangerment and conspiracy surely would be dismissed."
He said the hazing counts could carry up to a year in jail, but with no criminal history it was unlikely Kurczewski would receive a term close to that long if he is convicted.
Last month, prompted by the Piazza case, the Pennsylvania Senate approved and sent to the House a bill to toughen the penalties for hazing, making it a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison for cases that lead to severe injury or death.
Prosecutors have said it is unclear whether the charges against the two sets of defendants will be consolidated for trial.
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


More from News 12
4:08
‘Highway robbery at its finest.’ Commuters frustrated with NJ Transit, Amtrak issues as train delays pile up

‘Highway robbery at its finest.’ Commuters frustrated with NJ Transit, Amtrak issues as train delays pile up

2:20
HEAT ALERT: Feels-like temps in New Jersey approach 100 today; tracking evening pop-up storms

HEAT ALERT: Feels-like temps in New Jersey approach 100 today; tracking evening pop-up storms

1:31
Crowds flock to the Jersey Shore Friday amid sweltering heat wave

Crowds flock to the Jersey Shore Friday amid sweltering heat wave

0:38
New Jersey considers ban on gas-powered leaf blowers

New Jersey considers ban on gas-powered leaf blowers

0:28
Police: Multiple fights break out after Westwood High School graduation in Washington Township

Police: Multiple fights break out after Westwood High School graduation in Washington Township

0:41
Trenton restaurant owner accused of sexually assaulting multiple women

Trenton restaurant owner accused of sexually assaulting multiple women

Warren Township's Matt Fallon breaks American record, advances to Paris Olympics

Warren Township's Matt Fallon breaks American record, advances to Paris Olympics

0:17
Police: Child escapes stolen car in Paterson; suspect sought

Police: Child escapes stolen car in Paterson; suspect sought

0:24
Costco recalls portable charger over fire concerns

Costco recalls portable charger over fire concerns

1:35
Paws & Pals: 2-year-old Prancer now available for adoption

Paws & Pals: 2-year-old Prancer now available for adoption

0:33
Jersey Proud: Livingston crossing guard retires after 30 years

Jersey Proud: Livingston crossing guard retires after 30 years

0:45
Rep. Gottheimer announces federal security action ahead of 2026 FIFA World Cup

Rep. Gottheimer announces federal security action ahead of 2026 FIFA World Cup

0:58
Grand jury declines to file charges in deadly 2023 police shooting in Fort Lee

Grand jury declines to file charges in deadly 2023 police shooting in Fort Lee

2:42
Heading to the Jersey Shore to escape the heat? Beware of the cold ocean water

Heading to the Jersey Shore to escape the heat? Beware of the cold ocean water

1:24
Brushfire along New Jersey Turnpike in Secaucus snarls traffic, causes NJ Transit delays

Brushfire along New Jersey Turnpike in Secaucus snarls traffic, causes NJ Transit delays

0:53
Boil water advisory issued for parts of Edison following water main break

Boil water advisory issued for parts of Edison following water main break

2:59
Summer fun! News 12’s Dave Curren visits State Fair Meadowlands

Summer fun! News 12’s Dave Curren visits State Fair Meadowlands

2:06
‘Operation After Dark’ nets 78 arrests, thousands in fines in illegal club crackdown in Paterson

‘Operation After Dark’ nets 78 arrests, thousands in fines in illegal club crackdown in Paterson

1:43
Best Beaches: Checking out the ocean beaches at Brick Township

Best Beaches: Checking out the ocean beaches at Brick Township

2:00
Climbing to new heights at Iron Peak Sports & Events in Hillsborough

Climbing to new heights at Iron Peak Sports & Events in Hillsborough