Former Beta Theta Pi House Manager Sentenced To Probation
The former Beta Theta Pi brother accused of deleting surveillance video evidence from the night Penn State fraternity pledge Timothy Piazza sustained fatal injuries was sentenced on Wednesday to probation, fines and community service.
Braxton R. Becker, a 23-year-old from Niskayuna, N.Y., was convicted in May on one count of hindering apprehension or prosecution by concealing or destroying evidence, a second-degree misdemeanor. A Centre County jury found him not guilty on misdemeanor charges of tampering with evidence and obstruction. He is the only defendant in the case to date to go to trial.
His attorney, Karen Muir, said after Wednesday’s sentencing hearing that they plan to appeal his hindering apprehension conviction.
“I can’t reconcile the hindering charge, and that’s for another day,” Muir said during the hearing.
Centre County Judge Brian Marshall sentenced Becker to two years of probation, 100 hours of community service, a $5,000 fine and the cost of prosecution. The probation will be served consecutively to the three years of probation Becker is currently serving for an unrelated case. He was charged two weeks after Piazza’s death in 2017 with allegedly selling marijuana from the Beta Theta Pi house, stemming from an investigation that began in November 2016. He pleaded guilty in June 2018 to misdemeanor counts of possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, while felony charges were dropped.
The $5,000 fine, Marshall said, reflects “the necessary expenditure of public resources,” for recovering the basement video footage that had been deleted from the house’s surveillance system.
Piazza was one of 14 pledges at the Beta Theta Pi house on Feb. 2, 2017 for bid acceptance night. Investigators said he was give 18 alcoholic drinks in 82 minutes, including at a series of drinking stations called “the gauntlet” and at a basement party that followed the initiation ceremony. He fell head first down the basement stairs and sustained a series of falls throughout the night before paramedics were called the following morning. He died on Feb. 4 of brain injuries, head trauma and massive internal bleeding from a shattered spleen, according to a medical examiner.
Becker was not accused of being involved in the bid acceptance night, but as house manager was in charge of the surveillance video system. Police said that when asked for video footage from the bid acceptance night he initially provided “two useless” video clips. He later attempted to download the footage for police but when that was taking too long, police took possession of the two digital video recorders. They found footage from the first floor but nothing on the DVR for the basement.
State College Det. David Scicchitano, the lead investigator, later discovered camera angles he had not seen before and the DVR was sent to the F.B.I., which recovered the video and a system log showing a “clear all data” command from the time Becker was downloading video for police in the presence of another State College detective.
At sentencing, Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Zarallo said that Becker’s case is different from others charged in the case, who were all accused of conduct from before Piazza’s injuries. Becker, he contended “knew the underlying motives of this investigation,” and made “a conscious decision,” to delete the video.
Zarallo also pointed to text messages with other fraternity brothers suggesting he could erase the video and Becker being the only member with extensive knowledge of the system.
“The jury convicted him of deleting crucial evidence in a brazen manner,” Zarallo said.
He said attempting to “thwart” police from finding evidence “strikes at the very heart of the criminal justice system.” Though the sentencing guidelines call for probation, prosecution asked for Becker to serve a brief period of in-home detention, as well as probation and community service.
As she argued at trial, Muir said there is still no evidence proving that Becker deleted the video and that his acquittal on two counts showed the jury had reasonable doubt that he did.
Muir requested that Becker receive no further penalty, noting he is already on probation and meeting the goals any further probation would achieve. She also said in-home detention would be “so far outside the guidelines it’s not even appropriate.”
Since February 2017, she said, Becker has stayed out of trouble and done all that’s required of him, noting that in addition to a bachelor’s degree in physics, he is currently pursuing a master’s degree in economics.
“In two and a half years Braxton has kept his nose clean,” Muir said. “He’s done everything he was supposed to do. There’s no reason he should be on [further] probation.”
While Becker’s case appears as if it will linger in the appeals stage, two other Beta Theta Pi brothers are the only other defendants still awaiting trial. Former chapter president Brendan Young and pledgemaster Daniel Casey still face trial, on numerous charges of recklessly endangering another person, hazing and furnishing, but their case has been put on hold pending an appeal to state Superior Court.
Seventeen former members of now-banned Penn State fraternity have pleaded guilty to various misdemeanor charges in the case, and six others were accepted into Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) programs for first-time offenders.
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