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Second Beta Theta Pi Brother Pleads Guilty To Hazing

A second defendant has entered a guilty plea in the Beta Theta Pi fraternity hazing case.

Joseph G. Ems, 22, of Philadelphia, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to one count of hazing and one count of unlawful acts relative to liquor. Centre County Judge Brian Marshall scheduled sentencing for Sept. 27.

The charges against Ems stem from the recovery of deleted basement video from the night Penn State sophomore and fraternity pledge Timothy Piazza sustained fatal injuries after falling during an alcohol-fueled bid acceptance night at the now-banned Beta Theta Pi chapter.

Ems was not accused of providing alcohol to Piazza and though he was present for the “gauntlet,” a series of drinking stations in which the 14 pledges were encouraged to rapidly consume alcohol, Ems did not participate. At a party that followed the initiation event, Ems was seen on camera handing a bottle of vodka to a pledge and tipping the bottom upward as the pledge drank.

In June, former fraternity brother Ryan Burke became the first defendant to enter a plea, pleading guilty to four counts of hazing and five alcohol charges. He was sentenced last week to three months house arrest, 27 months of probation, 100 hours of community service and fines.

Like Burke, Ems entered an open plea, meaning he does not have a deal with prosecutors for a sentencing recommendation. Ems, however, is less likely to be sentenced to confinement. For a first-time offender, the standard range sentence for hazing, a third-degree misdemeanor, is probation, with up to three months incarceration possible if aggravating circumstances are found. The alcohol charge will carry a fine.

Burke was sentenced to an Intermediate Punishment Program, including three months of home detention, because Marshall found the one count of hazing related had an aggravating factor in Piazza’s death. The aggravating factor was not found in the three other hazing counts. Marshall also said Burke had a mitigating factor in his entering an early plea.

Ems was initially charged in May 2017 with one count of recklessly endangering another person, but that charge was dismissed following a first preliminary hearing last summer.

At a second preliminary hearing in May, District Judge Steven Lachman bound over the hazing and liquor code violation counts and dismissed a charge of furnishing alcohol to a minor.

Twenty-two other former Beta Theta Pi members still face a variety of charges in the case, with most currently scheduled for a February 2019 trial.

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About the Author

Geoff Rushton (

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.


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