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Penn State hazing death: Attorney general seeks manslaughter charges against frat

"They must be held accountable for their individual actions," said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
by Aaron Franco and Erik Ortiz /
Image:
Jim and Evelyn Piazza during a news conference on May 5, 2017, in regard to an investigation into the death of their son, Timothy.Abby Drey / AP

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HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania's top prosecutor announced Tuesday he is appealing to have five former members of a now-disbanded Penn State University fraternity recharged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of a pledge last year.

The move comes after a judge in March dismissed aggravated assault charges and decided not to allow more serious ones to move forward as part of a trial that is expected to put a spotlight on alcohol abuse and hazing in the Greek fraternity system.

A third pretrial hearing for another set of former Beta Theta Pi brothers is set to begin Wednesday on lesser charges, including hazing and furnishing alcohol to minors.

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Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old sophomore from Lebanon, New Jersey, died from injuries he suffered after falling down a flight of stairs at the Beta house during a pledge-acceptance ceremony in February 2017. Prosecutors said he was served 18 drinks over 82 minutes.

First responders were not called until almost 12 hours later — after various fraternity brothers failed to assist him, prosecutors have alleged.

At a news conference Tuesday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the state's case is based on three crucial elements: that the defendants participated in alcohol-based hazing activities, were aware that Piazza had fallen and failed to render aid.

Shapiro also wants to seek reckless endangerment charges against six of the former brothers. But he said he would not refile any aggravated assault charges, which had been thrown out by the judge last year, agreeing that there isn't enough evidence to support them.

In total, 26 former Beta brothers have been charged, mostly for conspiracy to commit hazing and unlawful acts relative to minors.

"They must be held accountable for their individual actions, for their respective roles in planning that fateful night, in failing to render aid and leaving Tim to die in their fraternity house," Shapiro said. "I'm confident that once this case makes it to the jury, we will obtain justice for the Piazza family."

The ex-Beta members have denied all charges. If the involuntary manslaughter charges are reinstated, they would carry a maximum punishment of 2-1/2 to five years in prison.

Aaron Franco reported from Harrisburg, and Erik Ortiz from New York.

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