Prosecutors filed charges Monday against 17 people linked to a former Penn State University fraternity after saying authorities had recovered deleted video that showed some of them furnishing alcohol to pledges, including a 19-year-old who later died.
Stacy Parks Miller, the district attorney in Centre County, Pennsylvania, told reporters that the video confirms that Beta Theta Pi pledge Timothy Piazza was given at least 18 drinks in less than 90 minutes during a February pledge event. She added that the fraternity brothers were the only ones seen handing the drinks to Piazza on the night when he tumbled down stairs.
Of the 17 charged Monday, 12 are new defendants and five were previously charged, Miller said. In addition, five of those charged are facing both involuntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum punishment of 2-1/2 to five years, and aggravated assault, which carries a maximum prison term of 10 to 20 years.
Other charges include hazing and furnishing alcohol to minors.
"Tim was a happy and caring human being and a wonderful son who just wanted to join an organization to find friendships and camaraderie," Piazza's father, James, said at the news conference, as his voice cracked with emotion. "Instead he was killed at the hands of those he was seeking friendship from."
"It's time to man up, fellas, and be held accountable for your actions," Piazza added.
A judge in September threw out the most serious charges, including involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault, against eight of the former Beta members. In total, 14 brothers who belonged to the now-disbanded fraternity were ordered to stand trial in the hazing death, but for lesser charges.
Those charged in the past have denied all charges. The new defendants did not immediately respond to the charges announced on Monday.
Miller previously said that she planned to refile charges and denied there was prosecutorial overreach because the more serious ones had been dropped.
She said Monday that fraternity member and house manager Braxton Becker had manually deleted the video footage while police were at the house trying to obtain it. Becker was charged with tampering with evidence, obstructing administration of law and hindering apprehension.
During earlier preliminary hearings, State College police Det. David Scicchitano testified that all of the footage prior to Feb. 6, two days after Piazza succumbed to his injuries, was gone.
But Miller said the entire video system was sent to the FBI for further analysis. Eventually, that missing footage was retrieved from a deleted hard drive.
She declined Monday to detail if the deleted video shows Piazza, an engineering student from Lebanon, New Jersey, falling, but said he does appear inebriated in it.
The video was a continuation of an earlier drinking event called The Gauntlet, in which fraternity brothers forced pledges to drink excessively from station to station, prosecutors said.
Piazza fell down basement steps that night, police said. First responders were not called until almost 12 hours later — after various brothers failed to give him meaningful assistance, prosecutors alleged.
Penn State shut down the Beta chapter permanently after an investigation into Piazza's death and the Beta Theta Pi International Fraternity suspended the group. The international's leaders said they have "clearly and consistently expressed its position that it does not tolerate hazing or alcohol abuse."
Penn State also seized disciplinary control over all Greek fraternities and sororities on campus, including instituting a zero tolerance for hazing.