Eight Penn State students and the Beta Theta Pi fraternity were charged Friday with involuntary manslaughter. Ten other fraternity members also were charged.
Piazza, 19, of Lebanon, New Jersey, died February 4, two days after he was injured while pledging the fraternity. The cause of death was a traumatic brain injury, resulting from several falls after a night of heavy drinking, including one fall down a set of basement stairs, a county grand jury investigation found. A forensic pathologist calculated that Piazza had a life-threatening blood alcohol level content on the night he was hurt.
What’s more, surveillance video and other evidence contradicts fraternity members’ versions of how they treated Piazza, including the length of time it took them to call an ambulance, attorney Thomas Kline told CNN’s Michael Smerconish. It all points to an attempted cover-up, he said.
“This was in a fraternity house, but don’t mistake the fact of it being at a fraternity house for the chilling, numbing, facts, which are in this investigative report by the grand jury,” Kline said Saturday.
The video is “both a blessing and a curse,” Kline said: “a blessing in so far as prosecutors know what they know in great detail, but a curse for your clients to know that it’s all captured, and it’s all there to see.”
Though graphic, the video evidence is “the great equalizer in this particular situation,” Kline said.
Video ‘shocking’ and ‘numbing’
“That video is shocking. It is numbing, described by the president of the university as inhumane and sickening, not my words but the president of Penn State,” he said. “The things that were captured on that video should not take place anywhere.
“He was in a forced hazing ritual,” Kline said. “This fraternity and the culture on the Penn State campus which allowed this to take place should not take place in any university in any campus anywhere in America.”
Penn State President Eric Barron called the series of events that led to the death “sickening and difficult to understand.” The university permanently banned the fraternity from operating a chapter on campus.
Beta Theta Pi International Fraternity described the “nature of those charges” as “incredibly disheartening as the organization and its membership continue to grieve Tim’s passing and the pain experienced by his family.”
The mission of the Piazza family now, Klein said, is to try to make sure what happened to their son will never happen again.
“We need to change the culture. We need to change the atmosphere. We need to change the rules of the game,” he said. “This was depravity at its worst level. Just because it happened in a fraternity house, just because it happened on a college campus, don’t think to yourself, ‘Oh, it couldn’t be that bad.'”