While Piazza’s condition deteriorated, the students he was hoping would become his fraternity brothers were deleting text messages and debating whether to scrub security footage that showed the moments leading up to his grievous injuries, prosecutors said.
That footage was part of prosecutors’ opening salvo in the court case against the 18 members of Penn State’s Beta Theta Pi fraternity charged with Piazza’s death. Monday’s hearing in a packed courtroom will determine whether there is enough evidence to go to trial, according to USA Today.
Prosecutors have painted the frat brothers as indifferent to the plight of Piazza, who fell multiple times after consuming toxic levels of alcohol. They failed to get help for him for many hours, authorities said.
The fraternity brothers’ actions, and inaction, were detailed in grand jury investigation findings released by the Centre County, Pa., district attorney last month.
Piazza’s February death led to the permanent banning of the fraternity from Penn State and strict new rules for Greek organizations on campus. Penn State’s president called the grand jury’s findings “sickening” and vowed to firmly enforce the new rules.
But now the fraternity brothers are fighting for their freedom. Eight were charged with involuntary manslaughter, as was the fraternity chapter, and other charges included hazing, aggravated and simple assault, alcohol-related violations and evidence tampering.
The grand jury’s report detailed a night of binge drinking and hazing with a deadly ending.
Pledges were ordered to go through a gauntlet of drinking stations at the party that night, at which they were to quickly drink vodka, shotgun a beer, and so on. At one point, a staggering Piazza was helped to a couch. Later, “severely staggering,” he tried to open the front door, then made his way to the basement steps a little before 11 p.m.
He was found unconscious at the bottom of the stairs, according to the findings. Shortly before midnight, a fraternity brother wrote on a group message that Piazza “might actually be a problem. He fell 15 feet down a flight of stairs, hair-first, going to need help.”
At about 1 a.m., fraternity brothers put a backpack full of books on Piazza, who had thrown up and was twitching, in an attempt to keep him from rolling onto his back, according to the grand jury’s findings. After 3 a.m., Piazza tried to stand but fell, hitting his head on the floor. He fell again at 4 a.m. At 5 a.m., he fell, hit his head on an iron railing and landed on a stone floor. He got up, trying to get to the front door, but fell and hit his head on the door. Fraternity brothers stepped over him.
After 7 a.m., Piazza fell down the basement stairs again. When fraternity members found him, unconscious, cold to the touch, and with blood on his face the next morning, it was more than 40 minutes before they called 911.
Piazza died the next morning from a fractured skull and a ruptured spleen.
Doctors told his parents he would have survived if he’d been brought to the hospital sooner.