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Penn State Fraternity Death: Prosecutors to Show Timothy Piazza's Final Hours at Hearing

by Gabe Gutierrez /
Jim and Evelyn Piazza stand by as Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller announces the results of an investigation into the death of their son Timothy Piazza, seen in photo at right, a Penn State University fraternity pledge, during a press conference on May 5, 2017, in Bellefonte, Pa.Abby Drey / AP

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BELLEFONTE, Pa. – Most of the 18 fraternity members facing charges related to the alleged hazing death of a Penn State University pledge are expected in court Monday as prosecutors plan to play about three hours of security video from the Beta Theta Pi house during the last few hours of Timothy Piazza's life.

A few of the defendants have waived their preliminary hearing, Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller told NBC News.

Authorities say Piazza, 19, died after a Feb. 2 pledge event in which he tumbled head first down 15 basement steps following a night of heavy drinking. Members of the Beta Theta Pi house are accused of failing to render appropriate aid. Some of them allegedly physically assaulted Piazza in order to get him to regain consciousness, according to prosecutors.

Penn State shut down the Beta chapter permanently after an investigation, and the Beta Theta Pi International Fraternity suspended the group.

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Michael Bonatucci, 19, is among those facing the most serious charges, including aggravated assault.

His lawyer, Rocco Cipparone Jr., said Bonatucci never handed any alcohol to Piazza that night and was not involved in the discussions of whether to call for help.

"It's a tragic situation, but just because somebody is deceased and it's sad doesn't mean that everyone who was even in any room at any time should be held criminally accountable,” Cipparone said.

"What is at stake is the future of Greek life and campus life on every college campus in America."

"What is at stake is the future of Greek life and campus life on every college campus in America."

Prosecutors said Piazza’s blood alcohol content was four times the adult legal limit when he fell down the stairs of the Beta Theta Pi house in February. It was 12 hours before a member of the fraternity called 911.

“Nobody should consume that much alcohol,” his mother, Evelyn Piazza, told NBC News' Matt Lauer last month. “That`s torture.”

The charges against another fraternity brother, Joseph Sala, include involuntary manslaughter. His attorney, Leonard Ambrose, denies Sala had any contact with Piazza that night and he says the chapter advisor — a Penn State employee — should be held more responsible.

"[The chapter advisor] obviously was involved in having knowledge of the social agenda, what was going on at various times,” Ambrose said. “He was in the house. At no time did he ever say, 'You can't do this, this is improper.'"

District Attorney Parks Miller told NBC News that the charges came down to personal responsibility.

"This attempt to blame somebody who had no hand in what happened is just proof of how some of these defendants are going to go to try and exonerate themselves," she said.

Penn State declined to comment about the chapter advisor’s role, but released a statement Sunday announcing that it had established a five-member "Greek-Life Response Team." Earlier this month, the university’s board of trustees voted on reforms, including taking more control of fraternity discipline, tightening restrictions on social events and pushing back recruitment until later in the school year.

Piazza’s parents, who plan to attend Monday’s hearing, say that’s not nearly enough.

"What is at stake is the future of Greek life and campus life on every college campus in America,” said Tom Kline, the Piazza family attorney. “This death of this young man, which was something that never should have happened, serves as a wake-up call to American universities."

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