A former member of Penn State University’s Beta Theta Pi chapter has pleaded guilty to nine misdemeanor charges pertaining to the death of a pledge who incurred fatal injuries after being forced to binge drink.
Ryan Burke pled guilty to four counts of hazing and five counts involving unlawful acts related to alcoholic beverages in Pennsylvania on June 13, according to The New York Times. Burke will face sentencing on July 31.
The victim of the crimes, 19-year-old Timothy Piazza, died in February of 2017 after incurring several brain injuries from falling down a flight of stairs after drinking very heavily. An ambulance was not called to assist Piazza until 12 hours after the fall. Burke was accused of participating in forcing Piazza to drink from a bottle of vodka at a party.
Twenty five other defendants face trials in cases pertaining to the death. They have all entered not guilty pleas and await trials. Burke is the first of the group to plead guilty.
Tom Kline, a lawyer for Mr. Piazza’s parents, Evelyn and James Piazza, says the victim's family is pleased with Burke's decision.
“They encourage others to follow in his footsteps,” said Kline to the Times. “This is a significant event in the face of resistance of every individual in this criminal case.”
Burke’s lawyer, Philip Masorti, has not commented on the guilty plea. On Wednesday, Masorti had characterized the death as a “tragedy” and noted that Burke was “anxious to make amends,” according to The Associated Press.
In September, a Magisterial District Judge Allen W. Sinclair had dismissed several charges against eight members of the fraternity pertaining to the death, including involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault and simple assault. The reasoning for the dismissal was not discussed, according to The New York Times.
“This was disappointing, unexpected and in our view, not supported by the evidence,” Stacy Parks Miller, the district attorney for Centre County, had said at the time, according to The New York Times.
In the wake of the Piazza's death, the Pennsylvania legislature is discussing a bill that would make hazing a third-degree felony in the case of bodily injury or death. Hazing deaths would be punishable for up to seven years in prison. Hazing is currently only classified as a misdemeanor offense in the state.
[Photo: Beta Theta Pi by Sheridan Libraries/Levy/Gado / Getty Images]