Four months after 19-year-old Tim Piazza died as a result of severe injuries from a fraternity “pledge night” at Penn State University, 18 members of the fraternity he sought to join are facing the possibility of being charged on various accounts relating to his death.
On Monday, at a preliminary hearing to determine whether they will be charged, prosecutors played almost three hours of surveillance footage from the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house from the night of February 2, 2017.
Reporters at the courthouse, including Susan Snyder of the Philadelphia Inquirer, described the footage as “grueling” to watch.
On Feb. 2, shortly before midnight, one of the fraternity brothers wrote in a group text that Piazza had fallen “down a flight of stairs, hair-first” at the pledge event, and was “going to need help,” according to The New York Times.
But none of the brothers called 911 until 10:48 a.m. the next morning. By that point, Piazza, who had fallen unconscious, had been lying on a couch in the fraternity house for several hours as members of the fraternity watched.
Piazza ultimately died at the hospital on Feb. 4 as a result of severe brain injuries, a collapsed lung, and a ruptured spleen.
According to reports, in the footage of the party shown at a courthouse in Bellefonte, PA, the brothers appear to pour liquid on Piazza’s unconscious body and force him into a backpack, which prosecutors said was to prevent Piazza from choking on his own vomit.
Tensions were high in the courtroom, according to NBC News reporter Gabe Gutierrez. At one point, members of the district attorney’s office began shouting at opposing counsel, who were objecting to parts of the video being shown.
Although the fraternity members at the center of the trial have avoided making comments to the media about the case, Matt McLenahen, a lawyer for one of the brothers, said in April that the events of the night have been misrepresented to the public.
“I’m upset that the public has a misconception as to what actually happened,” McLenahen told The Philadelphia Inquirer in April. “The brothers did try to take care of [Piazza], but they simply misdiagnosed what the problem was...Even though this was a tragedy, there was no malicious intent.”
Text messages recovered in the days following Piazza’s death, however, included notes from the fraternity members who described Piazza as looking “fucking dead” on the night of the party. In another text, a pledge ordered the other members of his pledge class to tell police that they’d called 911 instantly upon discovering Piazza’s body “behind an away bar,” rather than watching him over the course of the night.
Judge Allen Sinclair will soon decide whether 18 members of the fraternity can be charged for various crimes, including, in some cases, involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault.
Lawyers representing several of the brothers attempted to block the surveillance footage from being shown, but Sinclair denied their request.