HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Eleven more members of a Penn State fraternity are headed to trial over the death of a pledge after a judge ruled Monday prosecutors put on enough evidence to support hazing and alcohol-related criminal charges.
Judge Steven Lachman dismissed the most serious charges against the defendants. All reckless endangerment counts and allegations that a member of now-shuttered Beta Theta Pi had erased basement security video to thwart investigators were thrown out.
All 11 face at least one count of hazing and at least one alcohol-related charge for the events that occurred the night in February 2017, when Tim Piazza suffered a series of falls and was badly injured inside the fraternity house. In all, 25 fraternity members are charged.
Piazza, 19, of Lebanon, New Jersey, died of severe head and abdominal injuries after a night of drinking that followed a pledge bid acceptance ceremony. He fell down a set of basement steps, and the amount of alcohol in his system has been estimated at three or four times the state's legal limit for driving.
After a separate preliminary hearing, another judge previously sent charges against 14 other members of the fraternity to county court for trial. In that case, the attorney general's office is seeing to reinstate dismissed charges of involuntary manslaughter against five defendants.
Lachman dismissed all three charges that Braxton Becker, 21, of Niskayuna, New York, had faced over the allegedly deleted security video - evidence tampering, obstruction and hindering apprehension or prosecution. A message left for his lawyer was not immediately returned.
The judge upheld a total of 35 counts of hazing and 37 alcohol-related offenses against the 11 defendants. In addition to Becker's charges, he also threw out five counts of reckless endangerment, 34 alcohol-related counts, two counts of hazing and one count of criminal conspiracy against various members of the group.
Attorney Jeff Veitch's client, 20-year-old Joshua Kurczewski of Erie, remains charged with nine counts of hazing and eight alcohol-related counts, but the judge dismissed reckless endangerment, one count of hazing, conspiracy and nine alcohol-related charges.
"Obviously we're pleased to have 12 of the counts dismissed, particularly the most serious charges," Veitch said. "I felt confident reckless endangerment and conspiracy surely would be dismissed."
He said the hazing counts could carry up to a year in jail, but with no criminal history it was unlikely Kurczewski would receive a term close to that long if he is convicted, Veitch said.
Thomas R. Kline, attorney for Piazza's parents, released this statement, on their behalf:
While pleased to see the charges of hazing and furnishing alcohol to minors move forward against some defendants, Jim and Evelyn Piazza are dismayed by the dismissal today of the tampering charges against one defendant, as well as dismissal of reckless endangerment charges against another who was involved in the same ritualized hazing as others who were held for trial in the prior preliminary hearing. The Piazzas are hopeful that the Attorney General will file an appeal so that all individuals will be held fully responsible for their misconduct and so that dangerous and potentially lethal hazing will be deterred in the future.
A spokesman for the attorney general's office said he would soon issue a comment on the decision.
Prosecutors have said it is unclear whether the two sets of charges will be consolidated for trial.