Judge dismisses involuntary manslaughter charges in Penn State frat hazing death
After a week of preliminary hearings, a judge on Friday dropped the most serious charges for eight former Penn State Beta Theta Pi fraternity members in the death of former pledge Tim Piazza.
The charges, which included involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault, could have carried a 10 to 20 year prison sentence.
The only remaining charges are misdemeanors: a reckless endangerment charge, which carries up to a two-year prison sentence, and hazing and alcohol-related charges. Four of the total 18 defendants had all of their charges dropped.
Although the most serious charges were dismissed, 14 will still face trial for the lesser charges.
Shortly after the judge's ruling, district attorney Stacy Parks Miller announced she plans to appeal and re-file manslaughter charges.
According to the Penn State student newspaper, the Daily Collegian, Parks Miller argued in court that the former fraternity members knew the dangers of consuming large amounts of alcohol because they themselves had been through the type of hazing Piazza faced.
"To say they could not foresee this as a dangerous event, is absolute incredulous," Parks Miller said during closing arguments. She said the Piazzas are "devastated" over the dismissed charges.
Piazza was a Penn State sophomore who died after participating in hazing rituals at Beta Theta Pi.
During a night of heavy drinking and alcohol hazing by fraternity members Feb. 2, Piazza fell down a flight of stairs that led to the basement. After Piazza's fall and around 11:50 p.m. that night, fraternity member Greg Rizzo wrote to others in the house in a group message that Piazza “might actually be a problem. He fell 15 feet down a flight of stars, hair-first, going to need help.” Yet hours passed before medical help was summoned, according to the grand jury report.
Related: TIMELINE: The events from the night surrounding the death of Timothy Piazza
Piazza died of irreversible spleen and brain stem damage, according to the district attorney.
The grand jury report concluded that “the severity of Timothy Piazza’s condition was obvious and noticed by the fraternity brothers and pledges around him that evening.”
The grand jury also concluded that there was an “active attempt to conceal and/or destroy evidence” after Piazza was transferred to the hospital, including deleting group messages and erasing video surveillance from the house.
In response to Piazza's death and after an investigation, the university announced in March that it permanently banned the Beta Theta Pi chapter from ever returning to campus and made other changes to Greek life at Penn State.
Trials in the lesser charges related to Piazza's death are not expected to begin until spring.
Ramsey Touchberry is a University of Florida student and a USA TODAY College correspondent.
This story originally appeared on the USA TODAY College blog, a news source produced for college students by student journalists. The blog closed in September of 2017.