BELLEFONTE, Pa. (Reuters) - A prosecutor on Thursday urged a Pennsylvania judge to try 16 fraternity members in the alcohol-fueled hazing death of a 19-year-old aiming to join the club at Pennsylvania State University.
The Feb. 4 death of prospective member Timothy Piazza after a drinking game known as “The Gauntlet” resulted in charges including involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault against members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity.
“They have been acting as out-of-control savages for so long,” District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said in her closing argument at a hearing in Centre County Courthouse on whether there is enough evidence to bring the case to trial.
“They feel they cannot be held responsible because it is a way of life,” she said.
“The Gauntlet,” a drinking obstacle course in which fraternity pledges consumed large amounts of alcohol, turned into “a long night of debauchery that ended with Tim Piazza dead,” Parks Miller said.
Her comments brought attorney Ted Simon, who represents fraternity member Luke Visser, to his feet.
“You should disregard everything she said!” Simon said.
Magisterial District Judge Allen Sinclair said he would decide on Friday morning whether the case should go to trial in Centre County Court of Common Pleas.
In the second day of defense closing arguments, lawyer Michael Engle asked the judge to dismiss all charges against his client, fraternity member Gary DiBileo, who is accused of holding a wine bag from which pledges running “The Gauntlet” were urged to drink.
“People drink to excess at fraternity parties. The typical result is not death. Just as injecting heroin typically does not cause death,” Engle said.
Eight members, including fraternity president Brandon Young, face felony charges that could result in many years in prison. The other defendants are charged with misdemeanors.
Piazza, of Lebanon, New Jersey, died of multiple injuries suffered while drunkenly falling multiple times, including twice down a flight of stairs, during hazing activities on the night of Feb. 2 at the fraternity house near the Penn State campus in State College.
Authorities say the fraternity brothers waited for hours before calling for medical help. Piazza died of head and spleen injuries suffered in the falls.
Much of the hazing was captured on security camera footage that has been played in court. Jim and Evelyn Piazza, Timothy’s parents, who have been attending the hearing, have left the courtroom when the harrowing video has been shown to the judge.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg and James Dalgleish