Adviser faces hearing in PSU fraternity death case
BELLEFONTE (AP) — An adviser to a Penn State fraternity whose members are charged in a pledge’s death will have to explain why he has not responded to efforts to get him to testify, a judge said Friday.
District Judge Allen Sinclair scheduled an Aug. 30 contempt hearing for Tim Bream, the football team’s head athletic trainer who lived in the Beta Theta Pi house.
Defense lawyers asked Sinclair to enforce a subpoena against Bream, saying they have not been able to serve it on him directly despite efforts to find him or reach him through his attorney, university lawyers or the building where he works.
They want to question him about events that led to the death of 19-year-old Beta Theta Pi pledge Tim Piazza, of Lebanon, New Jersey, who died after ingesting a toxic level of alcohol and then falling several times after a pledge acceptance party on Feb. 2.
Bream said in a brief email to The Associated Press that he won’t comment or be interviewed, following his attorney’s advice.
Defense attorney Leonard Ambrose, who represents Joseph Sala, argued that Bream could testify about the event “as well as his permission that these activities could occur.” The consent of Bream, 56, would undermine the element of recklessness involved in some of the allegations, Ambrose said.
The lead investigator, State College police Detective Dave Scicchitano, testified on Thursday that Bream watched pledges being brought into the great room around the time of the pledge ceremony, then went back into his room.
The fifth day of testimony in the preliminary hearing for the fraternity and 16 of its members wrapped up on Friday, and Sinclair said closing arguments will follow the contempt hearing. They could take several days, given the large number of defendants.
Some face charges of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault, while others face less serious allegations that include evidence tampering and alcohol violations. Sinclair has to determine if there is sufficient evidence to send the case to county court for trial. Two members waived the hearing.
Scicchitano was the only prosecution witness and spent some 37 hours on the stand.
He testified Friday that he gave the FBI surveillance equipment from the house in hopes that the agency can recover what he suspects is intentionally deleted footage from the fraternity house basement. He testified that one of the defendants — a man he did not name — is suspected of erasing footage the morning of Feb. 6, and charges may be filed.
Security footage from other areas of the house provided prosecutors and police with a trove of detail about what occurred that night, including a series of drinking stations the pledges were directed to and then Piazza’s first fall down a set of basement steps.
But there was no video from the basement, where Piazza convened with others after the ceremony. About an hour later, he had to be helped to a first-floor couch, and he subsequently fell down the steps and had to be carried upstairs. He spent much of the night on the couch in evident agony and somehow ended up back in the basement in the early morning, where he was discovered unconscious by other fraternity members.
They waited about 40 minutes before calling 911. Authorities say Piazza suffered severe head and abdominal injuries, and he later died at a hospital.
Penn State banned Beta Theta Pi after Piazza’s death.