18 Students at Penn State Charged in Death of 19-Year-Old Sophomore

Timothy Piazza with his parents Evelyn and James Piazza at a high school football game in Flemington, N.J., in 2014. (Patrick Carns, via Associated Press)

Eighteen students at Penn State University were charged Friday in the death of a 19-year-old sophomore who became drunk and fell repeatedly during a fraternity “pledge night” in February. Authorities said the student was left overnight, unconscious and obviously injured, by fraternity members who knew he needed help but failed to seek it.

Eight of the students were charged with involuntary manslaughter — as was the fraternity itself, the Penn State chapter of Beta Theta Pi. The other 10 face lesser charges, including hazing and furnishing alcohol to minors. Prosecutors also contend the fraternity brothers tampered with evidence to try to thwart an investigation.

The Feb. 4 death of Timothy Piazza, an engineering student from Lebanon, N.J., rocked the Penn State campus. The university’s president, Eric Barron, barred the fraternity from the university and imposed strict new regulations on Greek life, including a prohibition on liquor, kegs and all-day parties.

The charges, which grew out of a monthslong grand jury investigation, came just as Penn State was beginning its spring commencement weekend. They were announced on Friday by the Centre County district attorney, Stacy Parks Miller, at a news conference where she was joined by Mr. Piazza’s parents.

“The details in these findings are heart-wrenching and incomprehensible,” Mr. Barron said in a statement Friday, adding that “no pain we feel can begin to compare to the devastating heartbreak that Timothy’s family and friends are experiencing.”

The Penn State case comes as prosecutors around the country are becoming increasingly aggressive in filing criminal charges against fraternity members for hazing. In 2015, in what was then called the largest hazing prosecution in the nation, 22 former fraternity members at Northern Illinois University were convicted in connection with the death of a freshman, David Bogenberger.

But the Bogenberger case involved misdemeanor charges only. Those charged with involuntary manslaughter — a felony — in the death of Mr. Piazza also face felony charges of aggravated assault, which could result in prison terms.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg