Videotape shows pledge in agony
Preliminary hearing held for Beta Theta Pi members charged in Piazza’s death
BELLEFONTE (AP) — Prosecutors on Monday played videotape from inside a Penn State fraternity that showed a pledge suffering through an agonizing night from untreated injuries sustained in a fall during an alcohol-fueled event as his friends failed to call for help.
Only one witness, a detective, testified during about 10 hours of a preliminary hearing that will decide whether there’s enough evidence to send the case against members of Beta Theta Pi and the fraternity itself to county court for trial in the pledge’s death.
The district attorney and the detective dissected about three hours of security camera tape that began with 19-year-old Tim Piazza joining other pledges as they went from station to station in a drinking gauntlet, and Piazza soon appeared to become shaky on his feet. The video included him stumbling through the house before he was found, hours later, in the basement.
By the time help was called the next day, a police official said, Piazza had the look of a “corpse.” Piazza died days later.
Civil attorney Tom Kline, who represents Piazza’s parents, called the tape painful to watch.
Piazza, suffering a fractured skull, damaged spleen and brain and abdominal bleeding, is clearly distressed, holding his head and his midsection after striking his head repeatedly in a series of falls through the night.
“You cannot watch it without the heaviest heart and tears in your eyes,” Kline said.
The hearing did not finish Monday, and when it resumes defense lawyers will be able to cross-examine State College police Detective David Scicchitano.
Eighteen members of the fraternity are charged, but two waived the hearing. They face charges that include, for some, involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault, while others face much less serious offenses.
In grainy and soundless footage, members of the fraternity are seen spending long periods sitting on Piazza’s legs and taking other measures designed to limit his movement, while Piazza, of Lebanon, New Jersey, struggles to change position or get off the Great Room couch where he was taken unconscious after a Feb. 2 fall.
“He looked dead, he looked like a corpse” by the time he was found the next morning from what may have been a second fall, Scicchitano said.
Fraternity brothers and pledges hovered around Piazza, strapping on a bag filled with books to keep him from turning over and choking on his own vomit and bringing in a bucket to clean up when he did vomit. People poured liquid on him, slapped him and even threw his shoes on him, Scicchitano told the judge.
Meanwhile, the party appeared to go on, as people came and went, some looking concerned about his condition while others seemed to take no notice.
Shortly before 4 a.m., after a fraternity member saw Piazza on the floor and put a blanket over him, Piazza was alone on the floor of the fraternity house.
The camera caught him trying several times to struggle to his feet, falling over into the fetal position and eventually getting up and then stumbling head-first into a wall or door. He also was seen falling and hitting his head on the stone floor.
Piazza consumed what prosecutors said was a life-threatening amount of alcohol during a hazing ritual at the house in State College.
Fraternity members didn’t call 911 until nearly 12 hours after his first fall. The tape showed them carrying him back up from the basement in the morning, then spending about 40 minutes attending to him and milling around before someone finally summoned help.
By that time, Piazza had “lost all color,” and some of the fraternity members thought he may have died, Scicchitano said. Piazza was flown to a hospital and died Feb. 4 of his injuries.
His father, Jim Piazza, rocked back and forth quietly in the front row of the courtroom as he heard his final hours described. When the video started, Jim Piazza and his wife, Evelyn Piazza, left the courtroom.
Members of the fraternity, in the courtroom well with their lawyers, watched the footage with rapt attention.
Penn State banned the fraternity after concluding it had engaged in “a persistent pattern” of excessive drinking, drug use and hazing.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.