Former Beta Theta Pi Brother Becomes 17th To Enter Guilty Plea In Hazing Case
A former Beta Theta Pi member on Tuesday became the seventh defendant this month and 17th overall to plead guilty in the Penn State fraternity hazing case.
Michael Bonatucci pleaded guilty to three counts of hazing and one count of conspiracy to commit hazing. As part of the plea agreement, charges of recklessly endangering another person, furnishing alcohol to minors and additional counts of hazing will be dropped. Additional charges, including aggravated assault, simple assault and involuntary manslaughter, previously were dismissed after multiple preliminary hearings.
Centre County Judge Brian Marshall said sentencing will be scheduled for a date to be determined in April.
The plea leaves only three defendants in the case still facing trial.
Bonatucci, 21, of Woodstock, Ga., pleaded guilty for providing beer to four pledges during the “gauntlet” of drinking stations that was part of bid acceptance night on Feb. 2, 2017 at the fraternity house. None of those four pledges was Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old Penn State sophomore whose death following the initiation event prompted the investigation that led to charges against more than two dozen fraternity members.
Piazza was given 18 drinks in 82 minutes during the initiation event and basement party that followed before he fell head-first down the basement stairs. He sustained a series of other falls throughout the night and paramedics were not called until the following morning, nearly 12 hours after his fall down the stairs. He died on Feb. 4, 2017 as a result of brain injuries, head trauma and massive internal bleeding from a shattered spleen, according to a medical examiner.
Bonatucci had been scheduled to go on trial beginning Feb. 14, along with Jonah Neuman, Nicholas Kubera and Joshua Kurczewski. Neuman pleaded guilty on Jan. 4. According to court records, Kubera pleaded guilty on Jan. 7 and Kurczewski was scheduled to plead guilty on Jan. 11.
Another trial in the case was eliminated when its three defendants — Brian Gelb, Michael Fernandez and Donald Prior — pleaded guilty on Jan. 3. Joseph Sala, whose trial had not been scheduled, also pleaded guilty that day.
Former fraternity president Brendan Young and pledgemaster Daniel Casey — who face the most charges in the case — are the defendants in the third trial, which had been scheduled to begin on April 3, but has been continued indefinitely while prosecutors appeal to Superior Court decisions that would suppress some cell phone evidence and statements.
Braxton Becker, who was accused of deleting basement video which was later recovered, had charges of tampering with evidence and obstruction held over, but a trial date has not yet been scheduled.
Ryan Burke, Gary DiBileo, Joseph Ems, Patrick Jackson, Jonathan Kanzler, Aidan O’Brien Michael Angelo Schiavone, Bo Han Song and Luke Visser previously pleaded guilty to various misdemeanor charges.
Ryan Foster, Ed Gilmartin, Reginald Goeke, Craig Heimer, Lars Kenyon and Parker Yochim were accepted into Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) programs for first-time offenders that upon completion would dispose of charges against them.
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Ryan Field was a sea of white in the Nittany Lions’ week five return to Illinois on Saturday.
The schedule is highlighted by a Monday night dual against Rutgers at the Bryce Jordan Center in February.
The game is set to kickoff at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 13.