A lot’s changed in the Beta Theta Pi case since the initial findings were released that led to charges against 18 former brothers in May. The most serious charges of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault were dismissed in September after a summer of preliminary hearings, only for the whole process to be quashed with the refiling of the charges two weeks ago.
Different information has emerged during that timeframe — much of which begged the question: What if? What if the deleted basement tapes showing large portions of the night were available? What if the pre-trial process hadn’t been a dragged-out mess that spanned months? What if a different judge oversaw the case, compared to Judge Allen Sinclair, who left the felonies bound over for trial with no explanation?
On Monday, we found out that we’ll get the answers to those questions.
Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller held a press conference on Monday to announce that the deleted tapes have been recovered in their entirety, meaning that law enforcement now has access to the footage from the basement of the fraternity house on the night of Tim Piazza’s death.
From those tapes, Parks Miller announced she will pursue new charges against 17 individuals, including 12 who had not been previously charged.
Five brothers have been charged with felony aggravated assault as well as a misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter charge, among other charges. None of those five brothers were previously charged.
Other new charges brought about for the 17 former brothers include multiple counts of hazing, furnishing alcohol to minors, and unlawful acts related to liquor.
So why weren’t the tapes available during the original investigation? Parks Miller has charged former brother Braxton Becker with tampering with evidence, obstructing administration of law, and hindering apprehension for his role in allegedly deleting the footage.
The former house manager, who is apparently just one of two people in the house with access to the security footage, told detectives after he deleted the footage that “…the individual cameras in the basement did not record on the night in question,” which was in the grand jury presentment. Becker was charged with tampering with evidence in May for deleting GroupMe messages, but that single charged was dismissed.
Parks Miller made it sound like the decision was pretty spur of the moment, stating that police were at the house when Becker manually deleted the footage. But Becker had discussed the possibility of deleting the tapes with other fraternity brothers via text message before then.
This is what’s largely uncertain, but Parks Miller stressed that the video “is clear.” She denied to specify what footage the tapes caught.
The criminal complaints that go with the new charges give a more complete picture of what happened over the course of that night. It details the missing portions of Beta Theta Pi’s drinking ritual, “the gauntlet,” but many of the new details center on the social the fraternity held after the obstacle course, which members of Trilogy, a THON organization widely believed to be the underground reconvention of Delta Delta Delta sorority, attended.
Piazza is described as “visibly intoxicated” and is said to be “staggering” on multiple occasions as various brothers come in and out of the picture throughout the night.
The biggest part missing from the criminal complaints is anything that happened on the stairs. Any time Piazza or another member goes up or down the steps, the complaints say they walked “towards” the stairs. We can’t confirm anything, and we haven’t seen the video, but this leads us to believe there’s no footage of Piazza actually falling.
From the newly released criminal complaints and the information from May’s grand jury presentment, Piazza’s moves in the two hour period that he was in the basement could be tracked to fill in the blanks from what happened upstairs on bid acceptance night. Investigators could “ascertain that Piazza was furnished 18 drinks in one hour and 22 minutes.”
Twenty six former brothers now face charges with the addition of 12 former brothers on Monday. In total, 13 are facing felony charges of aggravated assault. Just about everyone on the list is facing multiple charges.
“This case has fallen off of its rails in terms of scheduling,” Parks Miller said. “The last prelims spread over many months and is kind of already off track. It needs to be placed back on track so the victims can have some sort of normal closure.”
There’s no doubt that the pre-trial period was prolonged, largely factored by the sheer number of defendants and defense attorneys involved.
Parks Miller, whose term as Centre County District Attorney ends in January, wants to get the process moving toward preliminary hearings as soon as possible. She plans to combine those hearings with the hearings for those involved with the refiled charges.
After Judge Sinclair announced that the most serious charges would be dismissed in September, Parks Miller openly disagreed with the decision. After having a month to review, she refiled the charges.
“I didn’t come here today to insult the prior judge, but we claimed error of law and we wouldn’t have refiled if we didn’t think [the charges]were 100 percent legitimate,” Parks Miller said.
Parks Miller is also not keen on that same judge overseeing the next set of hearings. She filed a motion for “Reassignment to a Magisterial District Justice other than Magisterial District Justice Steven Lachman” — citing his previous involvement with the university, his criticism of law enforcement, and that he “openly advocates for student defendants” as reasons for why he’s unfit to oversee future hearings.
Carmine Prestia, Kelley Gillette-Walker, or Thomas Jordan would be the remaining available District Judges to oversee the case.
Tim Piazza’s father spoke shortly after Parks Miller left the podium with her laundry list of charges and newfound hope to move these cases forward.
With his wife by his side, Piazza fought back tears to send his message with the emergence of the deleted footage from the basement on the night of his son’s death.
“Well the catch-all argument is that we don’t know other than what was seen in the upstairs video,” Piazza said about the the state of the case leading up to this point. “Guess what guys? Now we know.”
“It’s time to man up, fellas, and be accountable for your actions.”
The university, which recently announced the findings from its own student conduct investigation and disciplined a number of students, will return to the investigation process with the emergence of these deleted tapes.
“The university will proceed with additional student conduct investigations, through a process separate and distinct from the criminal process, as appropriate, based on these new charges,” the statement reads.
The Interfraternity Council, down 10 suspended fraternities including seven in the last year, reaffirmed its commitment to culture change in the Greek community.
“This information is a clear reminder that safety must remain our top priority, and to create change, there must be a buy in from the entire community — students, organizations, alumni, parents, and the university. We remain committed towards creating a culture change to instill a safer community,” the statement reads.