In the hours before a Penn State University fraternity pledge died, fraternity members were texting one another about how much trouble they were going to be in, according to prosecutors. The pledge master at Beta Theta Pi texted, “I think we’re f—-d. Like beyond f—-d.” And later, “I don’t want to go to jail for this.”
A judge could decide Tuesday whether 18 fraternity brothers, and the chapter, will stand trial in the death of Timothy Piazza.
Piazza was 19 when he died after a party in February for students who had accepted bids to join the chapter. That night, Piazza fell down a flight of stairs after drinking excessively, but no one called for help for almost 12 hours, according to police, who found him unconscious the next morning and took him to a hospital.
His death sparked changes at the flagship state campus, which implemented stricter rules on Greek life after banning the chapter. And it brought international attention to the dangers of alcohol and hazing on campus.
Former fraternity members gathered Monday as Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller resumed the preliminary hearing against the fraternity and 18 of its members. Eight of the fraternity members were charged with involuntary manslaughter, as was the chapter. Other charges included hazing, aggravated and simple assault, alcohol-related violations and evidence tampering.
The Daily Collegian, the campus newspaper at Penn State, reported that Timothy Piazza’s father “shook his head and locked his eyes on Brendan Young as recovered text messages from the former Beta Theta president were presented to the courtroom.”
The texts, prosecutors said, included, “He looked f—ing dead. At the end of the day, I’m accountable for it all.”
“Ill be the one going to court, paying for an attorney and maybe put in jail.”
A lawyer for Young, and a lawyer for Daniel Casey, the chapter’s pledge master, did not respond to requests for comment.
William J. Brennan — an attorney for one of the defendants, Joseph Ems Jr. of Philadelphia, who is charged with reckless endangerment — said the videotape shows his client for about 14 seconds in the same room as Piazza, who “didn’t have any obvious injuries to an untrained eye.” He questioned why Ems, who was 20 at the time, should face charges when others did not — such as a private security agency, St. Moritz Security Services, and Tim Bream, assistant athletic director and head athletic trainer for football at Penn State, who was living in the fraternity house at the time.
“The paid adult supervisor” faces no charges, Brennan said, but his client does. “I always felt Joey Ems was the dolphin caught in the tuna net.”
In response to a request from The Washington Post, Bream said he had been advised by his attorney not to comment or give interviews.
Rachel Pell, a spokeswoman for the university, issued a statement about him: “Tim Bream, who is an alumnus of the fraternity, was serving as a live-in advisor beginning in fall 2016 on his own time and not as a representative of the University. Mr. Bream’s living arrangement is a privately arranged matter between Mr. Bream and the fraternity’s alumni board.
“As we have stated, the University is investigating all aspects of what occurred at the Beta Theta Pi house. Student conduct and personnel matters are confidential.”
Gary Bradley, general counsel for St. Moritz Security Services, said the firm had been hired by the Interfraternity Council at Penn State but that he has not seen the evidence in the case, including the videotape, so it is difficult for him to comment. He said he did not have direct knowledge of whether officers had been at the party the night in question, as a defense lawyer claimed during the hearing.
Members of the fraternity spent more than $2,000 on alcohol for four membership events, Detective David Scicchitano of the State College Police Department told the court, Reuters reported: “They were obtaining a lot of alcohol,” Scicchitano said, “a very large amount.”
Last month, when the preliminary hearing began, surveillance video from the private fraternity house was shown that appeared to show Piazza staggering, falling and hitting his head multiple times overnight, and lying limp and unresponsive even as fraternity members poured water on his face. After 7 a.m., he fell down the stairs again. Fraternity members found him the next morning, unconscious. It was more than 40 minutes before they called 911.
After the hearing, Magisterial District Judge Allen Sinclair will decide whether the defendants stand trial on the charges in Centre County Court of Common Pleas.